White Knight of the Olympics

Shaun White in the Winter Olympic 2010 snowboard competition

At the 2010 Winter Olympics, Shaun White showed that a true competitor with a sense of style and chivalry doesn’t take the easy way to the finish line, even with a gold medal in his pocket.

Talking about chivalry in sports usually brings to mind images of come-from-behind victories, or the courage to compete in the face of pain or adversity. But at the recent Olympic winter games in Vancouver, British Columbia, one athlete provided an image of chivalry of a slightly different sort.

In the popular snowboarding half-pipe competition, Shaun White was the “one to beat.” Snowboarders in this game are judged on the best of two runs, and at the end of the first set of runs, White had a nearly perfect score, which put him in the admirable position of being both the leading competitor going into the second round, and also the final rider in the competition. That meant if any of the other riders beat his score, he’d have one, ultimate opportunity to take back the gold-medal spot.

Despite the other riders’ best efforts, however, none was able to overtake White’s position. That created an interesting situation: White literally won the gold medal while standing on the sideline.

There were lots of smiles and high-fives among White’s crew — but a serious question remained: Would White take his second run?

Run number two would essentially be a “victory lap” for White. A TV camera positioned nearby picked up a joyful conversation between White and his coach; the coach told White he could just “ride down the middle” of the course, rather than risking another display of aerial maneuvers, if he wanted to. The medal was already in his pocket.

It was no easy proposition. In preparation for the games, White had spent a lot of time recovering from injuries that ranged from a separated ankle tendon to a fractured chin, all in the effort of perfecting a move dubbed the “McTwisty,” which involves spinning around and over a total of 1260 degrees of rotation, while soaring as much as 30 feet (that’s three stories) above the ground.

But White’s decision came quickly: He swooshed down the snowy slope and gave his second run everything he had – including a conclusive “McTwisty,” to the crowd’s delight.

Clearly the spirit of chivalry lives on in this gold medalist, who took the knightly spirit of prowess – the pursuit of excellence with enthusiasm and dignity – to the snow. These games are full of wonderful examples of dedication, courage, strength, humility and camaraderie. But in the snowboarding competition, there was also a demonstration that even in the face of an easy victory, a White knight can still earn a medal with a sense of chivalry.

Below: A video of Shaun White’s second “victory” run at the 2010 Winter Olympics, complete with the “McTwisty.”

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