SOCHI, RUSSIA – Superstar snowboarder Shaun White announced Wednesday that he was dropping out of the slopestyle event at the Sochi Winter Games.
But don’t be alarmed – he’s not out entirely. One of the few household names of the Winter Games, White will still compete in his signature event, the halfpipe, where he’s favored to win his third consecutive gold medal.
At a news conference Wednesday for the halfpipe event, White received questions on slopestyle, but he gave no indication of pulling out. When asked which event was more important, though, he replied halfpipe.
Minutes later, NBC News broke the story of him pulling out of the slopestyle event.
“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,” he told NBC News. “The difficult decision to forego 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 a part of.”
Though White denies his minor wrist injury was the reason for dropping out of the inaugural competition, the safety of the event has raised flags at Sochi after a medal contender broke his collarbone on Monday. Ultimately, changes were made to the course overnight, and many raved about it on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’d have to say, there is some truth to it (that the course is dangerous),” he said. “There’s a bit of danger anytime you step out on one of these courses … This one may have a little more than others,” White said after practice on Tuesday.
Some riders are excited about the course, despite the safety concerns.
“I think the media blew it up more than it should have been,” said U.S. rider Sage Kotsenburg. “It’s a sick course (in a positive, snowboarding kind of way), and these guys did a really good job on this one.”
Women’s gold medal favorite Jamie Anderson also seemed excited: “It’s a playground, that’s for sure. This course is a bit more challenging than other courses. (But) this is the Olympics. It should be the most challenging, huge course we’ve ever ridden.”
A slopestyle course takes competitors down the mountain in an almost obstacle course-like journey. The athletes do tricks off rails and boxes at the top and go over three massive jumps at the bottom. The course in Sochi is about 2,000 feet long with a 500-foot drop. It is not for the faint of heart.
The course builders are on hand to address the riders and listen to their concerns.
“The first day, we do our thing. Then, we have a meeting and give them feedback,” Kotsenburg said. “It’s a dangerous course. Every course is dangerous, though,” he added. “It’s just a risk we take … it’s definitely up to par with what we should be riding.”
White’s Olympic legacy is undoubtedly tied to the halfpipe. As great as it would be to win double-gold, participating in slopestyle would take practice time away from the halfpipe. That and his discomfort with the course perhaps sealed the deal.
It’s a risk White was unwilling to take, and with his multi-million dollar brand at stake, it might be shocking that he pulled out of this event that’s debuting at the Sochi Games; but it should not be a surprise.
Follow Brian A. Shactman on Twitter @bshactman