By Vernon Felton
During the late nineties I worked for a mountain bike magazine that had the concession on creating and printing the daily newspaper at the Mammoth Mountain NORBA Nationals. This was back in the Jurassic period when Mammoth was the big draw in the cycling world–rivaled only by Interbike.
At any rate, we did an interview with Shaun Palmer for the daily, at a time when he was a fresh face, just entering the sport. The interview questions were insanely benign by today’s standards, but Shaun Palmer is the kind of individual who could make a guest spot on Sesame Street turn into a street brawl. I remember we asked Palmer what his favorite movie was and he said something to the effect of, Any porno with two guys banging one chick.
We printed that response. We had hell to pay.
Spectators who picked up the daily paper were incensed. Advertisers wanted to pull ads. Our publisher was not amused.
It was, however, just another two minutes in the life of Shaun Palmer. Even coming within arm’s reach of the guy had an impact on you.
This, after all, was an era when tattoos were not displayed and salaried pros had to maintain a sort of Leave It to Beaver squeaky-clean public persona. Palmer never fit the mold. In fact, he sort of rolled up, unzipped his fly and crapped all over the mold.
The movie, The Miserable Champion makes the case that Shaun Palmer changed everything about competitive mountain biking. If you said that about any other athlete, I’d tell you that you were full of shit, but in this case, yeah, it’s true.
Palmer not only demanded big dollars, he openly dismissed everything that seemed sacred about being a pro. More importantly, he had the goods to prove that he could show up drunk and still win. He was, and still is, an impressive rider and one of the most talented athletes on the planet. Seven sports, seven-times World Champion, six X-Games Gold, 38 Elite Victories, 117 Tour Podiums….a lot of people hate this guy, but it’s hard to argue with the facts.
I was never in love with Palmer’s antics. I mainly found the dick-ish behavior annoying at the time, but there’s no doubt that Shaun Palmer, for better or for worse, changed the world of mountain biking…or at least the style and attitude surrounding it.
Sandy Eggers, who had a hand in bringing Palmer into the Specialized Bicycles fold, sums it up well in the movie when she says, “With Shaun you’re always worried about what’s going to happen and what he’s going to bring to the table. Every day is a new adventure. I think that’s one of the great things about his personality—you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
I also think I’m going to buy Chainsaw Production’s The Miserable Champion, which looks brilliantly executed.
If you can’t find the DVD at your local bike shop, you can buy it direct Here.