ASPEN — The attention-grabbing moment in a new Shaun White documentary is not easy viewing.
Practicing a trick nobody has ever attempted in a halfpipe, White’s board gets caught up on the lip. His head and neck whiplash violently against the top of the pipe. Helmet and goggles go flying and White lands with a thud on the bottom, 22 feet below.
It’s this slow-motion replay of a painful setback, White’s ensuing frustration as he fails to master the triple cork and his eventual discovery of new motivation that turns “Shaun White: Russia Calling” — airing Saturday night on NBC — into something more than a run-of-the-mill athlete biography.
The inside look at White’s road to Sochi, where he’ll try for a third straight gold medal on the halfpipe, offers behind-the-scenes access and an unflinching look at his unsuccessful attempt at a three-flip trick that won’t show up at this year’s Olympics.
Not your typical airbrushed, superstar story.
“A lot of the footage you’re seeing is me trying to break down a barrier in my own head and my mindset to get this done,” White says in an interview with The Associated Press. “It doesn’t work that easily sometimes. This is the real story of what’s going on and what happens to athletes.”
As so often happens with White, things turn out pretty well. After shelving the triple cork (though probably not forever) and getting back to health, he finds new motivation while watching the Winter X Games Europe. There, a rival, Iouri Podladtchikov — the “iPod” — tries the double-cork 1440: Four full twists packed inside of two flips, or, a half-revolution more than White did when he broke barriers four years ago with his Double McTwist 1260.
That becomes the new bar for White and, instead of being bummed that someone else got there first, he’s reenergized by a new challenge.
“I love the documentary because it shows a lot of what goes into it,” White says. “It’s an attitude I have and the diligence it takes. The one trick was not easy to walk away from. But new things come along.”
The show offers looks at White’s training regimen — one part involves submerging himself into cold lakes to make the swelling go down — along with some of the charity work he does and the time he spends with his band, Bad Things, which debuted its first album Tuesday.
Despite his status as, arguably, the most famous athlete at the Winter Olympics, White’s trip to Sochi is anything but preordained. The documentary follows him through the qualifying process, which includes injuries, falls and on-the-fly scheduling changes but ends with White grabbing spots on the U.S. team for both halfpipe and the new Olympic discipline of slopestyle.
Though White’s road starts with a setback, the likes of which many athletes would never share with the world, he didn’t look at the fall and the frustration as moments to hide.
“If you saw me pop up at the Olympics and do a couple double 14s, win medals and say, ‘That’s really cool,’ you wouldn’t know the whole thing,” he said. “You wouldn’t know I tried all this other stuff. It’s so much more than just me showing up and saying, ‘It worked out or it didn’t work out.’”