Shaun White bows out of slopestyle; draws criticism from Canadian snowboarders
Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014 7:33AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 5, 2014 4:30PM EST
U.S. snowboarding star Shaun White has pulled out of the Olympic slopestyle event following complaints that the Sochi course is too dangerous.
In a statement released Wednesday, White said he decided to forgo slopestyle 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.
White, who is among the Olympic snowboarding favourites, jammed his left wrist during a practice Tuesday. When he came off the slopestyle course, he called it "a little intimidating."
White downplayed his injury as minor. But said he has “concerns” about the course.
"It's been interesting to see how it's developed and changed over the past couple days,” White said. “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."
White’s sudden decision to skip the new snowboarding event could be good news for Canadian gold-medal favourite and White’s rival in slopestyle, Mark McMorris. McMorris has described the takeoff ramps on which White suffered his injury as “kind of obnoxiously tall.”
"We were surprised for sure," McMorris's dad, Don, told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday of White’s decision. "We heard that he had sprained a wrist the day before, but that's not necessarily what would pull you out of a slopestyle competition, I don't think."
The event has snowboarders speed down a mountain course of rails, bumps and sharply angled jumps that allow riders to flip two or three times before landing. The qualifying rounds for slopestyle begin Thursday, the day before the Opening Ceremonies.
White is not the only Olympian who has raised concerns about the course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Olympic officials scrambled to make adjustments to Sochi’s slopestyle course after Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo crashed in a practice run on Monday and fractured his collarbone, forcing him out of the competition. On Tuesday, Finnish snowboarder Marika Enne suffered a concussion.
Other athletes have complained about the jumps on the course being too high.
Canadian snowboarder Sebastien Toutant told the Olympic News Service earlier this week that the course “is like jumping out of a building.”
Australian snowboarder Torah Bright, the defending champion in women’s halfpipe, criticized the course’s overall design.
"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."
Other riders have said they are comfortable on the course.
“There’s no way this course is too dangerous,” said American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg.
Don McMorris said his son has commented that the Sochi course "is not his favourite," but he pointed out that every slopestyle course is different, which adds to the appeal of the sport.
"It's maybe not what they're used to as far as the X Games, but every course is different, every hill is different…that's what makes slopestyle so interesting for the rider."
McMorris said Mark has been feeling good during his practice runs in Sochi, despite having fractured a rib at the X Games less than two weeks ago.
"(Mark) rode very well today," he said. "He's still in pain, but we're all pretty excited and pretty happy after a very troubling time."
Canadian snowboarders criticize White
Shortly after White's announcement, two Canadian riders took to Twitter to criticize the decision.
"Mr White... It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win...," Toutant tweeted.
"Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, that's why he pulled out. He's scared!" added fellow Canadian snowboarder Maxence Parrot, who is defending X-Games champion in the event.
Both tweets were eventually deleted and Parrot apologized, tweeting that he didn’t mean to offend anyone and said it’s “not as fun to compete at the Olympics when the (top riders) aren’t there.”
Although White is a five-time X-Games champion in slopestyle, he has put his focus on halfpipe over the past six years and suffered both an ankle and a shoulder injury this season.
With files from The Associated Press