Video: Teen snowboarder's dash for gold

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/13/2006 12:21:00 PM ET 2006-02-13T17:21:00

He's called "The Flying Tomato" for his long red mane — now glowing under an Italian sun. At 19, Shaun White is already a snowboarding legend, and every grom knows it.

"A grom is just a really young kid that's starting to ride," says White. "It's like a little guy. And I used to be called that a lot when I was younger. I'm much bigger now."

So big that he could pull off three 1080 degree spins — at heights only he'll try for — when he rides the halfpipe this Sunday as the clear favorite to win gold.

He's an individual star who loves being a teammate, and who, like any good kid, says he owes it all to mom and dad.

"My parents took such a huge risk, with me going and doing snowboarding," he says. "Like, it wasn't a big thing at the time. There wasn't any money in the sport, there wasn't anything."

Now his folks are proud as can be of this unquestioned prodigy who turned pro at 13. He spends summers at the X-Games on a skateboard and winters on the snow — always with gold shoes on his feet.

"You win a contest and that's 10 grand," he says. "You win another contest and it's $20,000. Then, all of a sudden, I end up having more money then my parents, you know what I mean?"

The money comes not just from winning, but from the resulting endorsements and commercials that have bought him four homes and made him a multi-millionaire.

He'll gain more fame from playing himself in the snowboard revolution movie "First Descent" — in which he races an avalanche and sketches his halfpipe magic in the wilds of Alaska. But White accepted years ago that being famous and physically precocious might not be good enough for Torino.

"I started going to the gym," he says. "It was, like, 'man, I gotta stay fit or something, because I'm an athlete and this sport is now in the Olympics!'"

So "The Flying Tomato" is now an Olympic athlete, and one of the most grounded superstars you'll ever meet.

Slideshow: Torino celebrates arrival of Olympics "A lot of times, like, kids are scared to come talk to me," says White. "But I'm so mellow, you know? I just hang out like everyone else."

Even if he hangs in the air like almost no one else.

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