After taking gold in the halfpipe snowboarding event in each of the past two Olympics, American star Shaun White was in line to add some additional hardware to his trophy case with a medal in the new slopestyle event in Sochi.
Unfortunately for snowboarding fans, however, White has decided to withdraw from slopestyle.
According to Nick Zaccardi of NBCOlympics.com, White dropped out of slopestyle in order to solidify his chances of taking gold once again in halfpipe, although it wasn't an easy conclusion for him to reach.
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. 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 part of.
The 27-year-old White is one of the most decorated snowboarders in the history of the sport. In addition to two Olympic gold medals in halfpipe, he has 13 Winter X Games gold medals to his credit. Five of those golds came in slopestyle, but he has placed far more emphasis on halfpipe in recent years.
Is pulling out of slopestyle the right decision by White?
White did take bronze in slopestyle at the 2014 Snowboard World Cup, so he would have been in contention for a medal in Sochi, although he was far from a lock.
White's withdrawal from slopestyle in Sochi comes on the heels of suffering a jammed wrist in a recent training session. According to the Associated Press, the slopestyle course gave White some issues.
"A little intimidating," White said. "It's been a challenge."
White isn't the only snowboarder who has had issues with the course in Sochi. He admitted that watching crash after crash made it difficult to prepare properly.
It's frustrating to see it. It puts a damper on the whole mood, and it's kind of like you're getting ready to do a big trick and you see something like that. Intimidating. Unfortunate. I'm hoping the builders can make some changes and the course has a little more of a friendly vibe. But I can't change the course. Just doing the best I can.
Although White called himself "healthy" prior to withdrawing from slopestyle, per Zaccardi, the risk of injury in that competition ultimately influenced his decision, according to Kelly Whiteside of USA Today.
Shaun White pulls out of slopestyle citing "the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on"— Kelly Whiteside (@KellyWhiteside) February 5, 2014
White didn't cite a specific incident that made him particularly wary of slopestyle, but perhaps the plight of Norway's Torstein Horgmo played a role. Horgmo broke his collarbone during a slopestyle training session, according to the Associated Press, forcing the medal contender to pull out of the Winter Olympics.
Fellow professional snowboarder Sebastian Toutant quickly reacted to the news on Twitter:
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
There is no question that White is a competitor who would love to sweep the snowboarding events in Sochi, but the comfort level simply isn't present in slopestyle. Perhaps entering the event was a bit ambitious in the first place due to the fact that it has taken a backseat to halfpipe in his routine over the past several years, but it's tough to blame White for wanting to give it a try.
With an opportunity to become the first male American athlete to win Winter Olympic gold in the same event three consecutive times, White has clearly chosen to focus on making history in the halfpipe. That contest will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
While the slopestyle event will lose some of its shine without White involved, The Flying Tomato will still have a huge role in Sochi as he looks to continue his halfpipe dominance.
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