Shaun White has become the latest Sochi casualty today when he announced that he would not be competing in the inaugural Olympic Slopestyle event. White still plans on competing in the halfpipe, where he has taken gold the previous two Olympics.
White listed several reasons for withdrawing from the slopestyle competition. His main focus is halfpipe, and he wants to dedicate more time to this event. Although White has won five X Games gold medals in slopestyle, he has spent recent years focusing more on the halfpipe. If he wins the gold in the halfpipe again this year, he will become the first male American athlete to take the gold home in the same event in three consecutive Olympics. This was a strong motivator in his decision to withdraw. Despite this fact, many were surprised at this decision. White took home the bronze medal at the 2014 slopestyle world cup. He may not have been the hands down favorite to win Olympic gold, but he was definitely in contention.
A part of White’s decision also came as a result of a wrist injury he suffered during slopestyle practice this week. He downplayed the injury, noting that his sport was a constant flow of bumps and bruises. However, he did call the slopestyle course at Sochi “intimidating.” After observing so many accidents, and riding the course several times himself, White felt that it was not worth it to risk his other gold medal aspirations by riding in the event. His comfort level just wasn’t there. White expressed disappointment in being the latest Sochi slopestyle casualty. His desire to medal in both events was strong, but the fear of injury was greater.
White also felt that the mood of the riders had been dampened during practice. After all, it is very difficult to gear up for a big run when you are watching all of your competition eat snow. Torstein Horgmo, a Norwegian gold medal favorite, crashed out of the event on Monday with a broken collarbone. Winter X Games medalist and Olympic favorite Tiril Christiansen also pulled out of the competition. Her circumstances were slightly different from the men’s. Coming in to the event she was already battling a knee injury. She had put off surgery on the knee so that she could compete in the Olympics. Before reaching Sochi, Christiansen was hopeful her body would hold up. However, she had to withdraw because the conditions were too difficult to tackle with such a painful injury.
While Shaun White is the latest Sochi slopestyle casualty, he may not be the last. Competitors have been giving daily feedback to course creators. They have voiced their concerns time and time again since practice runs began on Monday. Some concerns are being addressed, but some are still falling through the cracks. Course creators and officials remain confident that the proper modifications are being made. Some of the riders feel that enough has been done to fix the course. The majority, however, do not. If the string of injuries and withdrawals continue, the inaugural slopestyle event will fail to have the impact it so desperately needs to legitimize it as an Olympic sport.
By Chris Chisam