Olympic Nostalgia: Snowboarder Shaun White

as told to Florence Kane, Vogue

In honor of the upcoming summer games, we caught up with eight former U.S. Olympic champions. In this series, they share their fondest memories of everything it took to win the gold.

I was fifteen when I was in my first Olympic trials, for the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City. I needed to come in first for a place on the U.S. team, and I was number one with just one more guy to go after me. J.J. Thomas beat me by three-tenths of a point. I wasn't totally devastated, but really disappointed. It was like I'd gotten permission to join the field trip but couldn't go. I had to have that setback, though, in order to go forward and become who I am. And in 2006, I made it to Torino.

On my first qualifying run in the half pipe-you get two-I fell. I didn't think it was that bad, but then I saw the look on my brother Jesse's face. I was almost disqualified. I thought, Oh, God. But I did better on my second run and made it to the finals.

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There, I had my turn right in the middle of the heat, and got the highest score. No one who went after me beat it. So I had won the gold, which meant my second time down the pipe was a victory run. I didn't realize the importance of what had happened right away. In the first few moments I thought it was pretty cool, but it hit me when I saw my whole family in tears. I got all choked up thinking about what it meant to them after the years of driving me to competitions, sleeping in a van, and what they had to give up. And what it meant to just be getting a gold medal in a sport people thought was crazy. It was life-changing for me.

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I flew back to the States after winning, but returned to Torino for the closing ceremonies. I remember walking into LaGuardia Airport and checking my bag and someone yelling, "Hey, Shaun!" I turned around and he started to clap. Then the whole terminal recognized me and started clapping. It was like a teen movie. I was nineteen! I didn't know what to do, so I threw a fist in the air. I was super-nervous. It was an amazing time in my life.

Vancouver in 2010 was just as intense, but on a different level. It was all about cementing that I was the best, that Torino wasn't a fluke. I had a bit more fun, though, than in Italy. In Torino, we were on a mountain hours away from the Olympic village. The mountain we rode this time was 30 minutes outside of Vancouver, so the snowboarding team stayed in the city and got to hang out with all the other athletes.

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I won the gold again on my first run. This time on my victory run, I did a new trick: the Double McTwist 1260. I called it the Tomahawk.

The exciting part is that not only does my career keep growing, the sport does too. In 2014, they're adding slopestyle as another event in the Olympics in Sochi. So, I have a chance to compete in two events instead of only the half pipe. Just when I was feeling like, gosh, well what do I do now?


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