Perfect Aim

X Games talks with Shaun White about his perfect score and what gives him the edge over his competition.

In a perfect world, Shaun White's hand never would have grazed the superpipe wall at X Games last January. His run, widely considered the best halfpipe snowboarding run of all time -- trumping even his two Olympic gold-medal runs -- culminated in a frontside double cork 1260 that White invented just four days prior. It still would have won the X Games Aspen gold medal, easily.

But without that hand graze, none of the forum-filling cynics would have griped about the 100-point score he received or posted the frame grab time and again on Facebook or thrown conspiracy darts at the judges.

The questions were many. What is perfect, anyway? Is 100 out of 100 perfect? Does it have to be? Does a kiss of one's fingertip make the best run of all time imperfect?

If you listen to the judges who rewarded White with the first triple-digit full-run score in X Games history or to White's coach, Bud Keene, or even to White himself, you begin to question not so much the score, but the notion of perfection.

When it comes to snowboarding, all agreed: Perfection does not mean flawless. "To me," White said in a recent interview, "perfection is just doing something that maybe was not thought to be done. And doing it with a certain style and attitude."

What's perfect on one day is the best a human being can do on this planet. And on that day, that run was.
Bud Keene

Keene heard the chirping after White's victory, his fifth straight X Games SuperPipe crown. But Keene believes the chirpers missed the point.

"Obviously, there's been controversy about it -- which I love. It's good for the sport, it's good for all of us," Keene said. "There was controversy when Nadia Comaneci got the first perfect score in [Olympic] gymnastics. People said, 'No way, it can't be. If it's perfect, let's just go home. Gymnastics is over.' But that's not true. What's perfect on one day is the best a human being can do on this planet. And on that day, that run was."

It might be the one indisputable point. White's run didn't just end with a newly invented trick. It also was the first time a snowboarder landed back-to-back double cork 1260s, owing to the difficulty of landing even one (he invented both variations in his run, including the 2010 Olympic gold-clinching trick he calls the double McTwelve, or double McTwist 1260). It featured four unique double corks and an average height above the pipe that is roughly 5 feet, or 33 percent, higher than his competition's average jump.

And perhaps most relevant, he had already won the contest with a 94.00 on his first run. He didn't have to hit a single jump on his final run, or even drop in at all.

"For me, that was the spirit of snowboarding," said Chad Otterstrom, a former X Games halfpipe rider and a 2012 judge. "He could've gone home and gone back to the gym and not risked it. But he went and pushed snowboarding to the next level, on his own, after he'd already won. That run probably won't be beaten for three years."

"As far as people who questioned it," said freestyle icon Eddie Wall, another judge that night, "I would just say, 'Was that the best run in the history of snowboarding?' And they would have to say yes. So, OK, why does that not deserve a 100?"

Perfection, as it were, has long been debated among snowboarding purists. To be deemed perfect signifies compliance with a set of guidelines, which contradicts the sport's core ethos. "There's something that the public misses about that," said Shawn Carney, a longtime snowboard judge who was in the X Games booth tabulating scores last year. "The term perfection, you'd never hear it come from a snowboarder, especially not a snowboard judge. It's not thought of that way."

The perfect score, however, is a different story. Judges have long contemplated when might be an appropriate time to award the historic 100, Carney said. World tour surfers get "perfect 10s" all the time, after all. "Why would they even have the scoring system if they're not going to use it?" Wall said.


White, feeling at home and dressing the part in Aspen.

For White, the path to triple digits began with a two-hour training session at Breckenridge, Colo., before driving to Aspen. He and Keene, who has coached White since 2005, had talked for the past year about adding an extra half-rotation to his frontside double cork 1080. Finally, White told Keene he was ready. "He landed the first one," Keene recalled. "Then he landed four more and we went home. It was muscle memory and he had it."

Two days before the SuperPipe competition, White took part in a photo shoot in the X Games pipe and badly sprained his ankle.

"He did a front double cork 12 and cased the lip with his front foot so hard that he blasted the top two lace hooks off his boot," Keene said. "Ripped them right out -- I've never even seen anything like that in my life. They were just hanging in the snow. I'm like, 'Oh my god. That would've broken my leg.'"

Leading up to the X Games, White had spent far more time training for slopestyle, a discipline he once ruled but has since been dominated by younger riders, than halfpipe. Aching to reclaim his title, White tried to ride the next day but stopped after hitting one jump and pulled out of the competition.

Theories swirled that he was afraid he'd be exposed yet again by superior slopestyle riders. "No one saw him crash on the slope course, so that's what everyone thought," one rider said.

The reality, Keene clarified, is White spent the next two days laid up in his room. "I went over to his hotel like three times a day, we put his foot in a bucket of ice water, then a hot bath, like 10 to 16 times. He was on anti-inflammatories, I had his meals delivered to his room. His only escape was we took him down a couple times a day to spin on a bike at the health club at the Little Nell. It was just a full-on effort to get him back to health."

The morning of the contest, White told Keene his ankle felt OK. They taped it and laced his boots as tightly as possible. White, the top qualifier, nailed his first run, by all accounts a standard White run. It scored one point better than Swiss Olympian Iouri Podladtchikov, whom many considered the prime threat to unseat the four-time champ.


Shaun White with a huge backside air on his way to SuperPipe's only perfect 100 score, at X Games Aspen 2012.

On his second run, White tried the frontside dub 12 but took off too early. He crashed viciously, slamming his face onto the ice. When he got back to the top of the pipe, his chin scraped raw and his eye blackened, he told Keene, "I want to do it again." Podladtchikov failed to top White's 94, so White already was the champion. But that hardly mattered.

"That day was all about the fact that I came to Aspen to do something no matter whether there was a contest or not," White said. "I basically was going to land that run either way. It's what makes me feel good, makes me feel like I've accomplished something. When I set out to do something and actually do it, that's succeeding."

Right before White dropped in, Keene, who's been coaching snowboarders for 24 years, turned to White and said something he's never said to anyone. "If you land this run, you're going to get a 100," he told White. He then texted the same prediction to White's brother, Jesse.

The moment White finished his run, the discussion in the judging booth began. Since White was the final rider, they didn't have to worry about someone eclipsing his score. Therefore, the 100 was an option. "There wasn't much conversation, per se," head judge Tom Zikas recalled. "It was unanimous. Everyone just knew that's the score they wanted to give. ... He skims the wall on his last hit? This isn't figure skating, this is an action sport. A finger skim on the best pipe run in history is really irrelevant."

Nevertheless, the judges took heat in the following days. Zikas said as many as 20 people questioned him about the score, including his mom. Given White's polarizing status in a sport in which corporate sponsors are often eschewed by the core, all kinds of theories circulated.

Responding to the most common supposition, Wall said: "Nothing's made for TV, it's just who rides the best. If Shaun did his run and butt-checked or fell, we're going to give him a 50. If I-Pod did back-to-back tricks that had never been done and went 15 feet out of the pipe, we're going to give him a perfect score. It has nothing to do with the name of the person."

Thinking back on that night, nearly a year removed from seeing the "100.00" flash across the big screen, White's face lit up at the base of the Breckenridge pipe where it all began. "That's something I'll never forget," he said. "It was a highlight of my career, you know what I mean? I don't ever plan on getting that again. I think it was the perfect day."

Shaun White's path of X Games domination

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