NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White is nearly as famous for his hair as for his dazzling dual-sports skills. The natural redhead, whose locks earned him the nickname the Flying Tomato, has been captivating fans ever since he grew his hair long four years ago. "I'll be sitting on a plane, and women come up to me and ask me where I get my hair dyed and do I curl my hair," he says, giving his thick, wavy locks a quick shake.
The halfpipe, however, is where White truly displays his distinctive style. Last week he sewed up a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by winning the third of five Grand Prix qualifying events, and started gaining buzz as the favorite to take gold in Turin. While most top riders throw one 1,080-degree spin into their runs, White crushes his competition by cramming back-to-back 1080s between two variations of a 900 spin. "Going into a 1080 with a 900--no one else has been able to do that," says U.S. halfpipe coach Bud Keene. "Shaun is head and shoulders above the rest. He's clearly the guy to beat [in Turin]."
A medal would be validation for White, who missed qualifying for the 2002 team by three tenths of a point two weeks before the Salt Lake City Games. "I was pretty determined after that," White says. "I think the Olympics is going to be awesome. It's going to be so much fun."
White is accustomed to being in the spotlight. The Carlsbad, Calif., native dominated the amateur snowboarding circuit for seven years before turning pro at 13. He then joined the pro skateboard tour at 16 and last August took second in the skate vert contest at the Summer X Games. He has won four times at the Winter X Games, making him the only athlete to win a medal in both editions. "The kid's a superhero," says pro snowboarder Andy Finch, 24, one of 50 riders vying for the remaining two spots on the men's halfpipe team. "That he can balance skateboarding and snowboarding is pretty amazing. He busts out whenever he wants." Adds Ross Powers, the defending halfpipe gold medalist, "This is his time."