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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-03-30

Torino Winter Olympic Memories
'Il Pomodoro Volante'

By K.C. Alfred, San Diego Union Tribune

Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union Tribune

Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union Tribune

Self portrait with Shaun White of the U.S. after winning a gold medal in the men's half pipe snowboarding competition at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Bardonecchia, Italy, February 12, 2006.
It is not everyday someone from San Diego wins a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Actually it has never happened.

But that changed when The Flying Tomato took to the halfpipe on the second day of the Olympics in Bardonecchia, Italy. Nineteen-year-old Shaun White, who barely missed making the U.S. Olympic team in 2002 and has dominated the snowboard world for the last few years, showed the world what the athlete of a new generation looks like.

I have been photographing the snowboarding, skateboarding, surf rat from Carlsbad, California since I started at the Union-Tribune five years ago.

As a sign of how things were run at these Olympics: The snowboard photo venue manager said that photographers were lining up at 7am to get an armband, which actually gets you on the side of the halfpipe. I arrived at the snowboarding venue around 9am for the halfpipe finals, which started at 2pm.

Only 40 armbands were given out and they were all gone. She apparently didn't remember the phone conversation we had the day before when she said there was plenty of space and there would be no problems. The Salt Lake City Olympics, there was unlimited spots on the side of the halfpipe.

Lucky for me Vincent Laforet of the New York Times let me borrow an armband for one run at the finals.

Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union Tribune

Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union Tribune

Shaun White of the United States soars through the air on his gold medal-winning run in the men's half pipe snowboarding competition at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Bardonecchia, Italy, February 12, 2006.
So for Shaun White, who had a little trouble in the prelims because of nerves, did his normal thing in the finals: he ruled. On his first run of two he put together a winning combo so far ahead of the competition that his second run was basically a victory lap where, as he would put it, "Got my slash on", by carving down the pipe as to be surfing. Soon after he would be wrapped in an American flag and on top of the world.

A week before the Olympics, the U-T sent me to Aspen to spend some time with White and his family at the Winter X-Games. It came in handy. This is the kind of thing you have to do with these athletes who are on a permanent world tour and don't come home in the months leading up to the Olympics.

I followed Shaun and his family the rest of the day at the Olympics. At one of the best press conferences I have ever attended, White held comedy hour. In his quest to get a date with U.S. figure skater Sasha Cohen he tried out some of his pickup lines like, "I see you do 1080's, so do I", or," Oh this thing (referring to his gold medal) I just picked this up on my way over to see you."

A two-hour bus/train/cab ride later and we are at the medals plaza in downtown Torino where White would get his gold medal and shed a tear or two. White said he wasn't crying and those were just some tears as he stood on the podium.

Once again things are not as easy as they should be. Photographers were asked to stand about 50 yards away from the stage behind the crowd to photograph the medals ceremonies. Only pool photographers, which there seemed to be about 20 of this night, could only stand up front.

Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union Tribune

Photo by K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union Tribune

Shaun White of the U.S. celebrates after winning a gold medal in the men's half pipe snowboarding competition at the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Bardonecchia, Italy, February 12, 2006.
After some explaining to the venue manager what I was trying to do, and that I was only there for one national anthem, they let me up front. These ceremonies only last about five minutes and for the most part, photographers who cover the Olympics don't shoot the medals ceremonies because they are at 8pm when actual sporting events are happening.

After the medals ceremony I met White and his family for quickie portrait session. They weren't going to sit around and listen to Kelly Clarkson, who was performing at the plaza that night. He had more important things to do like board a plane back to the States and do the talk show circuit along with some photo shoots. White would land on the cover or Rolling Stone as well as Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row.

It was truly an awesome feeling to watch Shaun and his family as he went from athlete to international superstar. It also helped that Shaun White was the story of the second day as Bode Miller got a 5th in the downhill and Michelle Kwan dropped out of figure skating.

The only problem with him winning a gold medal on the second day was that all I had to look forward the rest of the Olympics was skiing, figure skating and hockey, you know, all those other sports people really don't care about.


(K.C. Alfred is a staff photographer for The San Diego Union-Tribune. To check out photographs of Shaun White: www.sportsshooter.com/alfred/white)

Related Links:
Alfred's member page

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