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Shaun White: A natural board talent

  • Shaun White is the most successful snowboarder
  • Turned pro at 13 and won his first Winter Olympic gold medal at 19
  • Also won Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010, has 16 'X Games' medals
  • 'I like that people are counting on me to do something brand new,' he says

Watch the full show with Shaun White: Wednesday, January 19: 18.30; Saturday, January 22: 8.30, 14.00, 20.30; Sunday, January 23: 6.30, 18.30; Monday, January 24: 4.30 (All times GMT )

(CNN) -- Most Olympic athletes will use any natural advantage to win gold and Shaun White is no exception -- the only difference is that the champion snowboarder says it's a life-threatening heart condition as a child that has given him the edge.

Born with a condition that can lead to blue baby syndrome, White had two open-heart operations before he was 12 months old, something he believes has given him the will to win.

"If you have something dramatic like that happening to you at that age it puts something in you," says the laid-back Californian and double Olympic Champion.

"You're fighting to survive at that young age it puts a little fight in you. It's one of those messages of don't give up and don't ever let people or things or your own mind tell you what you can't do."

White has wasted no time since then.

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An undisputed giant who has transformed snowboarding from a snow dog hobby into a global sport, he got his first snowboard sponsorship at the age of seven, became a pro at 13 and picked up his first gold medal at the Turin Winter Olympic Games at the tender age of 19.

Now at 24, and with two Olympic championships under his belt, the laid-back Californian has become his own brand.

His prodigious skills, both on a snowboard and a skateboard, meant he had something of a double life growing up. Eventually competing on the slopes won out and school was exchanged for a private tutor.

Despite having won everything in the sport -- he holds 16 "X Games" medals -- his education on the slopes continues.

"It's funny to see how far you can come within a couple of years," he says.

"A lot of people, they can't stand the pressure of having to win, of having to feel like people are watching or expecting things. I love it. I like the fact that people are counting on me to do something brand new, something that's never been done before and be the guy. I like that feeling and so I use it as a motivator, I tend to rise to the occasion."

He was certainly ahead of his time, competing against people much older than him when other children his age were just starting high school.

"It's bizarre. Everybody was a lot older than I was by the time I went pro at 13. I had been winning the amateur contests for like five years in a row but it was always the same run... It's a very different story when you show up to an event and you hope to win, you are the guy to beat, you know it's a little different," he says.

If you have something dramatic like that happening to you at that age it puts something in you.
--Shaun White, snowboarder

"I'd win snowboard contests and I couldn't get the award because it was at a bar so I'd be sitting outside like 'Hey, I won, going to go home now and play video games' you know."

White's biggest achievement came winning his first gold medal at the Olympics in 2006, but he's been able to appreciate all the highs of his career to date.

"It's usually the first time you won something that makes it the most special moment, like the first time I won 'X Games', I won two golds," he says.

"I didn't make the Olympics when I was 15 by three tenths of a point so it was like 'Should he go? No, not yet'. I remember coming back and winning that when I was 19 and it was the best thing ever."

White was recently in China promoting the sport in a booming winter sports market, as well as being on call for some of his sponsors. Balancing his snowboarding and his business interests can be tough, he says.

"You can get lost in the products and doing all these things but I hold true to myself that I am a snowboarder, I always add things to that.

"That's the way it is for me and snowboarding. I like to take my time away from it and come back feeling stronger and refreshed and able to do new things.

"And if you've been sitting in the mountains for a month, just been sucked in and you're not doing anything where's your motivation? Where's your lust to go out there and learn something new and a trick that could possibly injure you. It's one of those things where you need to feel that way and you need to feel excited."