When I heard USA Today put Shaun Palmer on the cover under the headline "World's Greatest Athlete," at first I balked. Who are they to say that? Did he say that? What do they know? He ain't no Cassius Clay!
I've seen Palmer race a lot and I've seen plenty of world class athletes at the Olympics. What makes Palmer a contender for world's greatest? It's his crossover ability. No matter his sport of choice, he attains top level status. Alright, there's one caveat it's got to be a speed freak sport.
Palmer smoothly steps into communities of elite athletes who are then forced not only to compete with their long-time rivals, but then also face this scruffy looking, tattoo-clad, vociferous guy who really, really wants to beat them at their own game.
Renowned for his starts, Palmer rarely attributes these to his reason for winning. I think it's his legs, some think it's his attitude, plenty have tried getting more tattoos like his, but all to no avail. The only conclusion I could come up with was that maybe he isn't the greatest athlete in the world per se, but he's definitely got to be one of the greatest natural athletes in the world.
And what he does best is speed down mountains. On any given day, he'll beat 99.9% of the world, smoldering down any given mountain, whether on a BMX bike, a mountain bike, skis, a snowboard, a snowmobile, or a 125cc dirt bike, and those are only the sports in which we've actually seen him compete.
This 30-year-old California clean freak comes from a skiing background on Tahoe's south shore. He learned his big mountain technique from his partner in crime at the time, the infamous Mohawked skier Glen Plake. But, Shaun quickly transitioned into the new sport of snowboarding when it was still "back in the day."
Palmer began his championship career by taking snowboarding's overall championships, he later stepped up to halfpipe championships and then transferred all his board finesse over to boardercross championships. His biggest wins of all, however, are last year's qualification for the main event in Supercross arguably the most strenuous sport in the world, and last week's unbelievable upset at the Big Bear World Cup mountain biking downhill, his first on the World Cup tour.
When Palmer shows up everybody knows he's there to get the job done. So don't bet your favorite athlete against him or you might be forced to get some Cadillac tattoos of your own. But, you don't need to hear it from me. Listen to Palmer recount his 15 years of snowboarding world championships, as well as his fondness for his French rivalries in both boarding and biking and when and where his legs will take him next. Listen and learn what makes Palmer arguably the greatest natural athlete in the world.
Hans Prosl, getting out of Palmer's way for MountainZone.com