The Golden Ones: Medalists Shaun White, Evan Lysacek and Lindsey Vonn
February 19, 2010
Shaun White is known as the Flying Tomato, the Animal, the undisputed master of the halfpipe and one of the superstars of the Olympic Games. Shaun first hit the slopes at age 6, turning pro at 13. After years of trouncing competitors twice his age, Shaun won his first gold medal in Torino in 2006.
In a gravity-defying performance in Vancouver, the 23-year-old scored his second gold medal. "What's special about the medals is it's all cut from one big piece," he says. "They're all connected, so it makes a big picture when you put them all together."
To win the gold, Shaun brought out his signature move—the Double McTwist 1260. Though he took a painfully public spill at the Winter X Games 14, Shaun says he knew he needed his big guns at the Olympic Games. "I've been working on this trick for about two years, and it's been my best friend and worst enemy. I've taken crashes after crashes and gotten back up," he says. "You've got to just get back on the horse. It's one of those things where if I backed out at that point and saved myself for the Olympics and never tried the trick till the games, I just feel like it would have mentally kind of messed me up."
The moment he landed the Double McTwist 1260 in Vancouver was an explosion of relief, Shaun says."It's one of those things where you've been thinking about this day and planning and dreaming and everything's building up inside. You're standing at the top, and you've got to land it."
To train for the Olympic Games, Shaun says he practiced in a special halfpipe built in the Colorado wilderness. "The only way to get there was a helicopter or a snowmobile," he says. "We had the icing on the cake with basically adding a foam pit so I could then try these tricks into the foam and safely land and then bring it onto the actual wall."
Shaun says he only trained intensely for one or two hours a day. "It's one of those things where I only have a certain amount of energy and focus," he says. "I can't just go free ride it. It's one of those things where I always have to be pushing myself."
Shaun says he's always competed for the love of the sport. "When my parents first got introduced to snowboarding, and I started snowboarding, there was no Olympics, no X Games, no money or anything," he says. "Basically knew I had a talent and went for it."
While Shaun says his family is always there to cheer him on, he says his mom can't bear the thought of his getting hurt. "My mom runs for the hills at [events] because the last thing she wants to see is the X Games clip," he says. "I won [the Olympic Games]. I was looking for the family for the hug—that's my favorite part. And she's booked it to the lodge. She just runs away. She doesn't want to watch."
Still, he says he wouldn't be where he is without their support. "It's funny because you put a dream in front of somebody when they're so young and it just seemed so close," he says. "I was like, 'I can do this.' And I just took every step toward it and, sure enough, it happened."
As an Olympic snowboarder, Shaun admits he doesn't have much time to date. "I had a girlfriend for like four years that was really supportive of me," he says. "I would come back and I'd be gone for months and I'd be, like: 'Hey, what's up? You still like me? Okay, bye.' It's one of those things...I'm on the road all the time."
But there is one special person Shaun says he'd like to meet—President Barack Obama. "It seems like you win the gold for the U.S., you should meet the president," he says. "That would be cool."
Looking to the future, Shaun says he's not ruling out the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. "Going to Russia, representing—why would I not want to experience this again? But I don't know," he says. "I'm just trying to live in the moment."
Also in Vancouver, Evan Lysacek became the first American to win a gold medal in men's figure skating in more than 20 years.
Evan says winning gold still feels surreal. "I could have stood on that podium for hours. It felt like just a split second up there. So I think I have to just keep reliving it and maybe get a little bit of sleep, and when I wake up, I'll wonder if it's all real."
Still, Evan says he wasn't sure he'd land in the top spot when he finished his flawless performance. "But I knew that what I set out to do here in Vancouver had been accomplished, and I showed up just hoping that I was going to have my absolute best performance in the most important moment of my life," he says. "To have that performance was just icing on the cake of a fantastic week here."
So what's Evan's advice for young athletes who hope to be in his skates someday? "As an athlete, you have really great days and you have tough days," he says. "When you have those tough days and you have those trying moments, your love for what you do is going to get you through it."
After winning the women's downhill, skier Lindsey Vonn says she keeps her first gold medal someplace she can always see it—on her nightstand. "I can't believe I have a gold medal!" she says.
When she finished the race, Lindsey started to cry—and continued to cry for two hours. "The waterworks just kept going," she says. "I kept trying to give interviews, and I couldn't even say a sentence. It was just too much emotion and too much going on, and I couldn't control it."
Lindsey says she couldn't believe her dreams had come true. "I've dreamed about that moment since I was a little girl," she says. "To finally be able to do it under so much pressure and so much expectation [was] more than I could ever hope for."