Gift Scotty wants to give Australia is white, not gold

IT sounds kind of unlikely, but this is Scotty James speaking, so 100 per cent it's genuine.

When he returns to the family home of his dad Phil and mum Celia in Warrandyte, Victoria, the snowboard superstar will go into his garage and pick up the mini snowboard his dad bought for 10 bucks in Canada and daydream on his incredible rise from a country a long way from snowboarding's epicentre.

"It was so small it could be portrayed as a toy," James tells foxsports.com.au. "But it was a legit snowboard - just a 80-90cm board.

"I stand in it sometimes and it's funny. My feet don't fit in the bindings in shoes and I used to wear snowboard boots in it. It's quite cool, a special little thing for me to still have and reflect on. That's would pretty cool if I have kids, to put them on that board."

James, who had the honour of carrying Australia's flag at the opening ceremony in PyeongChang, starts his third Olympic snowboard halfpipe competition on Tuesday.

He's already caused a stir, putting the sport's judges - "silly people behind desks" on notice in a rant that surprised some, but not those who have followed his determined, ruthless rise to the top, from turning pro at 14 to taking control of his brand and career and feeling secure enough to slap down judges on the eve of the Olympics.

There's a beautifully charming side to James as well, as he showed in his interviews when named flag-bearer, and a cute as pie dancing video he released on his social media accounts.

But James knows his mind.

His mum and dad will be there to watch him, unlike four years ago at Sochi, Russia, when James, then a 19 year old veteran of his second Olympics, banned them from attending.

Scotty James of Australia watches the action at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Scotty James of Australia watches the action at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

 

"For me, for a headspace, I told my family not to come to the last one. I had a couple of question marks around the safety of it. There were a couple of terrorist attacks about two weeks before the event so I asked if my parents would stay home because it would have been peace of mind knowing they were safe at home in Australia rather than worrying they might be part of something tragic down in Sochi."

The fears were unfounded, and this time James has no issue with them being there despite tensions in the region, but the story gives an idea into the mind of James, the preparation and focus and level of control he takes, at 23.

Halfpipe is a dangerous pursuit where a tiny lapse in concentration can mean more than competitive pain. The pipe is 22 ft - 6 metres - from lip to base, and the athletes can soar another six or so metres above the hard ice as they run through an array of dazzling spins and flips. Detailing the dimensions don't do them justice. A superpipe is hard to describe if you've never seen one up close, and if you've only boarded in Australia, you never have.

James, the world champion and World Cup winner, has risen to the top of his sport despite coming from a country that doesn't have its own superpipe. They cost so much to build and maintain (and so few people can overcome the stomach churn they induce) for an Australian resort to bother.

James has an X Games gold medal and is among the favourites to add an Olympic medal to his collection. But he is also driven to grow the sport back home, pushing for an investment into a superpipe Down Under as legacy.

"It would be really cool," he says. "A big goal of mine over the next decade, being a professional snowboarder, is leaving a legacy behind. Giving the kids of Australia, just like those from Switzerland, the US, New Zealand and a lot of other nations, that in their back yard to train in.

"It's about me hopefully being able to help provide that for Australian kids so they're exposed to that 22 foot half pipe to train in, to understand what they need to learn to be competitive. As of now I'm travelling for a half pipe, and we're working on it and hopefully that's something that happens down the track."

James on his way to a world championship victory last year.
James on his way to a world championship victory last year.

James has always been a quick learner. Quick to get the idea that success meant giving snowboarding more respect than his peers. Listening and training his technique. Building his body for a potentially traumatic pursuit.

"I got my first contract when I was 14," he says. And the realisation came quickly. "Honestly it was watching my peers and seeing their way of life to understand I could make a living from it.

"There are hard times for sure. It's the nature of the game in our sport that there are going to be injuries and setbacks but for me it's credit to my team in my off season - I spend a lot of time working on trying to make sure we can avoid those at all costs.

"I work really, really hard in the off season to make sure I'm fit, edgy and ready to go. With no mental blocks, that I've left no stone unturned."

It's one thing, being prepared for the competition, to turn up with the tricks that will woo the judges, that will give you the edge over your rivals. It's another to understand the consequences of getting it horribly wrong - as happened to US superstar Shaun White earlier this season when a fall split open his face and gave him a pulmonary lung contusion which left him in intensive care.

Beating fear must also be trained.

"I conquer fear by thriving on it," James says. "I use energy. I use adrenaline. I use nerves when I'm getting switched on. It's a result and combination of each other that I enjoy. I don't use the word fear - it's about controlling my nerves. I have a lot of respect for my sport and respect the nature of it and I'm calculated with the things I do to control that fear because it can be a hindrance for me at times."

There's one huge part of his sport that he can't control - the judging.

James railed against judges he believes have been underrating his recent tricks, and giving others, including White who scored a perfect 100 earlier this season, too much credit.

It seems a strange tactic, criticising the inner circle who hold his Olympic fate in his hands. But that's Scotty James, 100 per cent genuine.

THE EVENT

The men's halfpipe, snowboarding's signature event, begins on Tuesday at 3pm AEDT with 30 competitors getting two runs each. From there the field will be cut to the top 12 to contest the medals with the best score from three runs counting. The finals begin at 12.30pm AEDT on Wednesday and the event finishes approximately 2pm.

THE RIVALS

Defending champion White, a 31 year old multi millionaire giant of the sport who owns a share of Mammoth Mountain resort and trains on his 'own' halfpipe, is betting favourite after his 100 score earlier this season. That was a remarkable score, a perfect score, and wrongly awarded according to many observers including James: "I have openly said (to the judges), this is not what you do. Shaun, if he looked at that run, he would tell you that wasn't a perfect 100."

Shaun White of USA looks on during the Opening Ceremony.
Shaun White of USA looks on during the Opening Ceremony.

 

"We're ranking the riders and putting a number to it," Tom Zikas, an X Games judge, told The Denver Post. "I didn't think the run was that progressive, given where the sport is now. It definitely has to be something that is knocked out of the park."

James had led White at Snowmass before that 100. A big part of James' frustration is he nailed a backside double cork 1260 - considered by many as the toughest trick to complete. Then, defending his X Games title in Aspen, James scored his best ever result - a 98, only to be beaten by Japan's Ayumu Hirano.

Hirano, silver medallist four years ago as a 15-year-old, is third favourite behind White and James in Australian betting markets. But at Aspen achieved something never seen before in competition - consecutive 1440 double corks which scored him a 99. "That was as close to perfect as you can get, said Kiwi rider Rakai Tait.

Australia will have two other riders, Nathan Johnstone and Kent Callister.



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