Shaun White: Focusing on halfpipe
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Shaun White pulled out of the Olympic slopestyle contest Wednesday after being dinged up on a course that riders are criticizing as unduly harsh.
White issued a statement, saying that after much deliberation, he has decided to forgo the new snowboarding event and concentrate on halfpipe, where he will try for his third straight gold medal next week.
"With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on," White said in the statement.
White, who was among the favorites in the new Olympic event, jammed his left wrist during practice Tuesday, and when he came off the slopestyle course, he called it "a little intimidating."
Slopestyle is a speed-packed trip down the mountain filled with rails, bumps and, most notably, steeply angled jumps that allow riders to flip two, sometimes three times, before landing. White hurt his wrist on one of the takeoffs, which one top rider, Canadian Mark McMorris, said were built "kind of obnoxiously tall."
Slopestyle qualifying starts Thursday, the day before the opening ceremony.
"He's a notable person and he probably would have brought more viewers to slopestyle," said Nick Goepper, an American who competes in the skiing version of the event.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams downplayed the idea that the course is too dangerous.
"I don't think that's an issue," he said. "A lot of the athletes have said they're very happy, they like the venue."
White, 27, has been dealing with a number of nagging injuries during a winter in which he was one of a few riders trying to compete in both events. The wrist added to a list that includes his shoulder and ankle, both injured during qualifying events for the U.S. team.
His focus now will be solely on Tuesday's contest in the halfpipe, which is essentially a hollowed-out ice shell with 22-foot sidewalls. There is danger there, but unlike slopestyle, it's based mostly on the types of tricks the riders try and not the setup of the pipe.
"After much deliberation with my team, I have made the decision to focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA," White said in the statement. "The difficult decision to forgo slopestyle is not one I take lightly as I know how much effort everyone has put into holding the slopestyle event for the first time in Olympic history, a history I had planned on being part of."
Chas Guldemond and Sage Kotsenburg will represent the U.S. in slopestyle, and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association said an alternate would not be entered as qualifications begin Thursday, with the finals scheduled for Saturday.
"Shaun is the consummate professional and has made a sound athletic decision," said Jeremy Forster, the snowboarding and freeskiing director of the USSA. "We anticipate an outstanding slopestyle debut on Saturday but also respect the importance to Shaun to keep his focus on winning a third halfpipe gold."
While saying reports about his jammed wrist were overblown and the injury wasn't serious, White did say there were serious issues remaining with the slopestyle course.
"There are definitely concerns about the course," he said. "It's been interesting to see how it's developed and changed over the past couple days. The big question is, if it will continue to change. Because every day, they have riders meetings and they give feedback. Sometimes there's changes, sometimes there's not."
Many riders said the dangers of the course were being overblown -- "There's no way this course is too dangerous," Kotsenburg insisted.
But White certainly wasn't alone in questioning the course.
Australian Torah Bright, the defending women's halfpipe champion who is trying to compete in three events this year -- halfpipe, slopestyle and a racer's version called snowboardcross -- also described an overly treacherous few days of training.
"We're here as the world's best snowboarders," she told The Associated Press. "Too bad we don't have a world-class course. The craftsmanship doesn't match the world-class athletes that are here."
Another top rider, Torstein Horgmo of Norway, was forced out after breaking his collarbone during practice Monday. On Tuesday, Finnish rider Marika Enne was carted off the course with a concussion.
There were dozens of other less-serious flips and spills.
Other competitors questioned White's motive.
Canada's Max Parrot, who won slopestyle at X Games Aspen last month, tweeted: "Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, thats why he pulled out. He's scared!"
Parrot later deleted the tweet, but Canadian slopestyle teammate Sebastien Toutant also got in a dig at White.
Mr. White... It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win...- Sebastien Toutant (@SebToots) February 5, 2014
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.