The first I’d heard of Shaun Palmer was at the World Mountain Bike Championships in Cairns, Australia in 1996. The buzz was going around that some snowboarder had burst onto the downhill scene with some big results at Norba US National races and World Cups. With Australia still being somewhat of an internet backwater and with my focus more on cross-country than downhill, it was news to me. It seemed like this guy was more of a curiosity than any real threat for a World title, but I went looking to see if I could get a glimpse of him anyway. Along with a couple of thousand others, it seemed. The Palmer phenomenon had hit the mountain biking world, in a big way.
Of course, history shows that he lost the World title by .15 of a second (or a ‘cock hair’ as Steve Peat so eloquently puts it) to the legendary Nico Vouilloz. But little did anyone know that day, in the sweltering, sticky humidity of Far North Queensland just what kind of impact Palmer would have on the sport. He looked different, and not only because of his heavily tattooed skin. He was unknowingly setting the course of DH fashion for the current crop of riders; full-face helmet, goggles, loose fitting jersey and baggy shorts, flat pedals and skate shoes. If Vouilloz hadn’t been wearing skin-tight Lycra, the history books may be different right now.
The Miserable Champion looks at Palmer’s up and down career and life as an ‘extreme athlete’. A legendary snowboarder first and foremost, trying his hand at a myriad of other sports, on snow and dirt, and making a huge impact on whatever he chose to do. There is plenty of footage of him dominating, lots of soundbites from competitors and friends, and a bonus interview with Rob Warner. I would’ve liked to have heard more about the ‘miserable’ side as well as the ‘champion’ side, as we don’t really get the sense that he is totally unhappy with the way his life has turned out. Sure, it touches on the hard drinking and partying, and his battles with those things, but in a way it is portrayed as only a small part of this story. But it’s a cool look at an amazingly gifted and troubled man, and well worth adding to your library whether you’re a long-time fan or have never heard of him.
Shaun Palmer: The Miserable Champion is available now in the First Floor Shop