Five Winter Olympians Who Forever Changed Their Sports

Considered bizarre at first, these athletes’ techniques ultimately became the gold standards for their sports

A ski jumper flashes a V. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user tpower1978.)

Shaun White: Sell it to the judge

(Wikimedia Commons)

When it comes to the athletes competing in this year's Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, no one has a bigger reputation for doing original moves than American snowboarder Shaun White. When he won his second Olympic gold in the snowboard halfpipe event four years ago in Vancouver, he sealed the deal with a move he named the “Double McTwist 1260,” a dangerous, spiraling routine that includes three and a half twists and two head-over-heels flips in mid-air. Heading into Sochi, he’s mastered another stunning move—a frontside double-cork 1440—in which he rotates four times while doing two front flips.

But White is in innovator in another, more calculating way. He doesn’t believe in unveiling his new moves in competition, hoping to dazzle the judges with a move they’ve never seen before. No, White wants judges to see his latest stunt before they judge him. For instance, in December, he briefly posted on YouTube a video of his frontside double-cork 1440. (It has since become unavailable.) 

The reason is that in snowboarding, unlike in figure skating, competitors don’t have to tell the judges in advance what moves they’ll be using and if a judge sees something for the first time during competition, he or she may be reluctant to give it a high score. A judge may need to see a new move half a dozen times before being able to understand the mechanics involved and evaluate its difficulty.

White has learned this lesson from the case of Jonny Moseley, an American mogul-skiing champion who didn’t win a medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 despite performing to perfection a revolutionary trick he called the “Dinner Roll.” He received lower scores than his competitors who stuck to more familiar twists and turns.

Afterwards, Moseley put it his way, “Tricks can be deceiving.” 


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