Acclaimed American Olympian Shaun White made a big 180 this week and he didn't have a snowboard attached to his feet.
Heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, White had the ambitious goal of bringing home two gold medals to add to the pair he has already earned by winning halfpipe competitions at Turin and Vancouver.
But on Wednesday, White abruptly pulled himself from the slopestyle competition—a move that rubbed many people the wrong way. As Cindy Boren of the Washington Post noted, White gave reporters no hint that he would be taking himself out of slopestyle, merely an hour before he delivered a statement to NBC.
Roughly one hour prior, White gave no indication of his decision during a press conference with reporters, saying that the wrist injury he had suffered during slopestyle training earlier in the week had been “blown out of proportion a little bit” and joking about the challenge of balancing the conflicting schedules for practice and competition in both disciplines.
“I’m just going to rely on my super strength to take me through,” White said. “That’s basically the go-to plan.”
Then White pulled a fast one on the Winter Olympic world, giving the following explanation, via Boren.
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.
While the course certainly had safety concerns and was responsible for breaking a collarbone of Norway's Torstein Horgmo, White's comments to the press give no indication of an injury, and it seems as if he merely got cold feet.
It's no surprise that White is the favorite to win his third straight halfpipe gold, as he has made a living off of big tricks and big air on the big stage.
But the slopestyle? Not so much.
White was considered medal-worthy in snowboarding's other event, but he doesn't have nearly as much clout on the slopes. This was duly noted by some of his Canadian competitors, who razzed White about being unable to finish first place in the slopestyle, per Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports.
It's admirable that White wants to focus on one event to achieve Olympic gold, but it's a shame that it took him so long to make up his mind. By waiting until the 11th hour, White essentially wasted a spot for another person to achieve their lifelong dream.
Sean Gregory of Time shared some comments from a disappointed 18-year-old Brandon Davis, who likely would have been tabbed if White made his mind up earlier.
I should be there, but Shaun decided he didn’t want to do it. It’s not a big deal for him. But for most people, the Olympics is a whole other level. It could have kicked started my career a bit, and gotten the ball rolling. But Shaun kind of dropped out like it’s nothing.
It's easy to see why Davis seems bitter as he sits at his home in California instead of being in Sochi for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Now, White better win the gold in the halfpipe event or he'll be looked at as one of the biggest disappointments of the Olympics. If he doesn't win gold, his image will be further sullied by a selfish decision that didn't pay off.
In the end, this move probably won't do much to hurt White's celebrity or marketability, but it will certainly be remembered by his peers in the snowboarding world.