Shaun White is still the favorite for his third halfpipe gold.
Of course, much of that criticism stems from White's controversial decision to withdraw from the slopestyle event after jamming his wrist during a practice run. While White received flack for backing out, most notably from Canadian snowboarders Max Parrot and Sebastien Toutant, he justified his decision at the time by claiming a focus on the halfpipe, per ESPN.com:
I can understand if it's your first time to the Olympics, you wouldn't understand a decision like the one I made. But you set your goals according to what's important to you. Halfpipe is important to me and I didn't want to jeopardize that.
I'm OK with that. It keeps me going, keeps me progressing, keeps me guessing. And I'm hoping to have a great Olympics. I'm feeling very, very confident and healthy, which is nice.
Well, the halfpipe is fast approaching, and White has two days to validate his decision and win his third consecutive gold medal in the event.
In terms of challengers, the field is fairly thin. Fifteen-year-old Japanese sensation Ayumu Hirano looks like the stiffest competition for White, but the precocious star will need to increase his difficulty level to match White's potential maximum score. "Mumu," as he is known, might be the American's successor at the halfpipe, but he seems unlikely to supplant White this year.
Elsewhere, American teammate Danny Davis has a legitimate chance to reach the podium, and he could threaten White if the favorite slips up. Davis missed 2010 after an accident forced him to withdraw, but he recently won gold at the X Games and features a backside 360 and a McTwist.
However, White's biggest challenge may once again be the course itself. It's an unfortunate deja vu for White, who once again sees dangerous flaws in the course design:
Shaun White, among others, have concerns about the Sochi halfpipe: http://t.co/P6UJPKjXYl— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) February 9, 2014
White described those faults to USA Today's Lindsay Jones, noting the uneven conditions along the pipe:
"Today was, uh, not the best," White said, trying to be polite, as he stopped for a brief interview with several reporters after the session.
"The first day, the walls were a little over-[vertical], so everybody was doing airs, and then landing like pretty flat," White said. "Today, they made the walls better so everybody lands [correctly], but in the flat bottom, where they cut it, it's like a bump, so everyone is riding along and then hits the bump, and that's really not very good."
Jones notes that the course will be re-cut before the final training session on Monday, so White and the other snowboarders who crashed numerous times should find the conditions more amiable.
Will Shaun White still win gold in the halfpipe?
Even while his confidence might not be totally unassailable, the halfpipe is White's domain. He dissuaded any concerns about an ankle injury he was nursing coming into Sochi and has had time to rest whatever issues his wrist may have caused from the slopestyle accident.
The halfpipe event will ultimately be what defines White's Olympic legacy, and in that regard his reputation is still flawless. For an intense competitor like White, all the recent hand-wringing and criticism should only catalyze a better performance in his signature event.