Palmer controversial but good for sport
Say what you want about Shaun Palmer – he’s too brash, parties too much and doesn’t smile enough – but pro snowboarders and mountain bikers need him and should thank him every chance they get.
The Meeks Bay resident helped ESPN launch the X Games and enliven the traditional and boring TV sports lineups. He’s also snowboarding’s Michael Jordan – the man no one can beat in the X Games boardercross – and protected the sport’s future by manufacturing snowboards for the younger masses. In mountain biking, he’s made downhill the cool event, helped up the ante with sponsors and bring a lukewarm interest from television companies (the Outdoor Life channel).
Even the athletes who don’t particularly care for his showmanship respect what he brings to their sport.
“For me and everybody it’s good that he’s competing in our sport because he’s so well known,” said Nicolas Vouilloz, who leads the World Cup downhill mountain bike standings. “I respect him because he’s very strong on snowboard and mountain bike, too. But I once told him, and I think he understands now, it’s no good to find an excuse when you’re not winning. When you don’t win, it’s because you’re not the best and when you win, it’s because you’re the best.”
Vouilloz should be happy that Palmer doesn’t devote his whole year to mountain biking.
“Remember, these guys are training all year for mountain biking. I have a month to get ready for mountain bike after snowboarding,” Palmer said.
Their intense rivalry loosened a bit on Sunday when Palmer congratulated Vouilloz after his downhill victory at Squaw Valley.
“When he beat me at Big Bear and I crashed, I wanted to show him that I could win at his home. The thing I don’t like is when he wins, he shows too much bravado. Otherwise, he’s a great man,” said Vouilloz, referring to Palmer donning a crown and gold suit before taking his place atop the podium at Big Bear last month.
Vouilloz, however, doesn’t see the bigger picture. Boxing would love Palmer. He promotes his sport. His showmanship brings interest to the extreme-yet-fringe sports. He knows how to market himself and the athletics he pursues.
Even the exact opposite of Palmer, the quiet Anne-Caroline Chausson – the top female downhiller mountain biker in the world – sees what “Palm” brings to the table.
“He’s a good match for the sport. A lot of kids out there want to be like him. He’s a special man,” said Chausson, who has won four of the five World Cup women’s downhills this summer.
Jonny Moseley can’t say enough about Palmer and perhaps has attended his “Marketing 101” class. The 1998 Winter Games gold medalist in the freestyle skiing moguls has lived in life’s fast lane the past two years, making several appearances on David Letterman, twice playing in the Celebrity Golf Championship and signing a substantial skiing contract with American Skiing Company. About all that is missing is a movie deal, so the ever-smiling Moseley can become the next Tom Cruise.
“Palmer is just unbelievable, and if there was ever an icon in snowsports, Shaun is the Michael Jordan. He has such a level of confidence, that he could do anything. If he’s not 5-9 and 160 pounds, he’d probably be the best player in the NFL. But he choose to do really cool sports. He’s ruffled a lot of people’s feathers, but when it comes to something that doesn’t involve a ball, he’ll kick (butt),” Moseley said.
Not that you’ll see Moseley enter a PGA event anytime soon, but the 23-year-old respects Palmer’s versatility.
“It’s nice to see someone that’s able to go out and mix it up. There’s too much specialization today, especially in skiing and now snowboarding. There’s no reason why people can’t do different sports and different events,” Moseley said. “There are a handful of others out there that could probably do the same thing, but they lack the will and motivation and charisma. I can’t say enough about him.”
Palmer readily admits that youth is passing him by. That’s not good news for the mountain biking industry. He’ll always play a role in snowboarding, but how long will he continue to hurtle his body down a rock mountain trail at 50 mph?
Now 30, Palmer says, if anything, motor sports will satisfy his competitive desires in years to come.
“I’m not a young kid anymore who will risk anything,” said Palmer, who said watching the X Games stunt bike competition recently in San Francisco didn’t give him any new ideas.
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