Shaun White did what snowboarders -- and skateboarders -- do, last night. He was in first place, top of the heap, nothing left to prove. Does he play it safe? he asks his coach. "Just slide down the middle?"
The answer? Something like... count this.
He drops in, does the winning routine even higher and better and ends with the 1260 double McTwist that nearly tore his jaw off a couple of weeks ago. And he sticks that sucker.
Champions do such things.
Then he said an interesting thing when he was interviewed. He said I want people to know -- you had the feeling he was talking to snowboarding kids here -- this isn't all there is to snowboarding. This is just the by-product. Snowboarding is the riding we do with our buddies. This is just us showing off some of what we've learned, of what the possibilities are.
Translated: It ain't about the points, man. It's about the thrill. It's about the innovation.
Watch the men's figure skating long programs tonight. In my humble opinion you'll see the quad speak its mind. The men who attempt the quad are going for the gold. The men who don't are just praying they'll win a medal. They'll just be adding up the points. The problem with stick and carrot motivation couldn't be more clear.
Codes of points, whether they're used to judge figure skaters, snowboarders, automobile designers or teachers, don't encourage excellence or innovation. People play down to codes of points. If you want people to rise to their own greatness, you have to give them freedom, you have to love their mistakes, give them fistbumps for the risks they take, celebrate their strengths and otherwise ... get the hell out of the way.
Watch an excellent analysis of White's artistry here on the the NY Times Web Site.