In 1998, the cover of USA Today posed a question that stunned the sports world: “Is Shaun Palmer the world’s greatest athlete?” No matter what sport—snowboarding, skiing, motocross, mountain biking, and skateboarding—he will be the first to tell you “The Palm” wins. A lot. Aside from his cocky attitude and his punk-rocker status, his drive and determination to win has set him apart his entire career as he dominates at virtually every sport he chooses. Shaun Palmer’s documentary “The Miserable Champion” is a shocking portrayal of one of the most notorious athletes to ever enter the world of action sports.
The documentary takes an inside look at the highest podium moments and the lowest of shortcomings in the life of Shaun Palmer. Exclusive interviews with other athletes such as Terry Kidwell, Steve Caballero, Andy Heisel, and Danny Kass, “The Miserable Champion” producer Brad Holmes, Shaun’s mother, and Shaun Palmer himself help us gain an understanding of the personal life behind the revolutionary sporting icon. It features film clips and photos from his early days as the “mini shred” to his most recent trials at the X Games combined with fluctuating blend of agro rock metal and acoustic soulful tunes coinciding well with the editorial style that seems to match the up and down rhythm of Palmer’s life. From his father’s abandonment and his own dabbles with drugs and alcohol to the top of the action sports world, his story is unlike any other athletes in history.
Beginning at the Mile High Ramp in Lake Tahoe, California in ’85, Palmer was deemed the “mini shred” and took his skills from skateboarding in the half pipe to the first ramps ever to be ridden on a snowboard, showcasing his soon to be world-recognizable talent. Seven sports, five times World Champion, six X Games gold medals, 38 Elite victories, and 117 tour podiums; we can all only help but wonder: what kind of person can accomplish something like that? What influences somebody to take it to such extremes?
Friends, family, and critics alike agree that the hardships Palmer faced at a young age, as well as his battle with drug and alcohol addiction played a large role on the way he wild way he has lived his life and his attitude towards competitive sports. In it to win, Shaun Palmer posed a threat some of the world’s best athletes—athletes who train for years to get where they are in the sport—only to have “The Palm” show up and take the gold. His influence on the snowboarding world is one many can recognize. Palmer played a major role in the development of the sport and was the face of the unruly early 90’s snowboard scene with his anti-conformist attitude. From his early snowboarding career and onward to the podiums, the film highlights Palmer charging all the way to the top more often than not. After overcoming a near fatal overdose in 2005, he still managed to gain a spot on the 2006 U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team, only to succumb to an Achilles injury nearly a month before the Games. His life goal shattered, Palmer began the slow adjustment to a life minus podium wins and Olympic titles.
The “Miserable Champion” chronicles all the highs and lows of an athlete who, according to ESPN’s Rob Semiao, “took his competing time very seriously, and his non-competing time very seriously” in a brutally honest format, perhaps in part of the efforts of friend, producer, former band-mate and fellow athlete Brad Holmes. Follow Shaun’s evolution from rags to riches in this film dedicated to a greater understanding of the personal life of “the Palm.” Taking nearly six years to complete due to injury and Palmer’s personal matters, the documentary was released earlier this year and quickly earned “Best Biography” at the X Dance Film Festival.
For now, the focus for Shaun Palmer has somewhat switched from a life of partying, drugs, and punk rock to a casual life of sobriety and good times. At age 43, Palmer is still competing. In the end, “the Miserable Champion is a raw and intriguing look at one of the most outspoken and influential athletes to ever strap in. And even though the push for the podium has somewhat faded, his reputation and influence have not.
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