Snowboarding star Shaun White announced Wednesday he will not compete in the slopestyle event debuting in the Sochi games, citing the risk of injury associated with the course.
“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,” White told TODAY in a statement. “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 a part of. “
White’s announcement comes after he took a fall Tuesday and jammed his left wrist while on a practice run on the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park course. It’s the latest in a slew of small injuries the snowboarder has experienced.
“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.
While there is inherent dangers in a sport like slopestyle, in which competitors are judged on a variety of tricks they do on rails, boxes and jumps, White is among several snowboarders who’ve expressed concerns about Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Criticism increased after Torstein Horgmo of Norway, considered a medal contender, fell off of a rail Monday and broke his collarbone — knocking him out of the Games.
Canada’s Sebastian Toutant said the course felt like "jumping out of a building,” and Finland’s Roope Tonteri told reporters that it was “pretty sketchy,” adding, “I just don’t want to get injured. It’s not a really fun course to ride.”
Changes were made to the course after feedback from riders on Monday — the combined height of all three of its jumps were reduced by about six feet. Snowboarders said the changes were an improvement.
“They put some wax on the rails, so it’s not as slick,” Toutant told the Globe and Mail. “And the jumps are still really high, but they made the transition to the jumps way smoother. I still think they could cut the jumps down a little bit, so it makes a smoother transition.”
But White and others still took falls. Tuesday, Finnish snowboarder Marika Enne crashed on the course’s final jump and was taken out on a stretcher after hitting her head.
White is now focusing all of his energy on the men's halfpipe, and if he succeeds, he'll make history as the first American man to win three Olympic gold medals in a single event.
American Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn said she empathized with White on his decision not to compete in slopestyle. The defending Olympic downhill champion, Vonn recently pulled out of Sochi after being plagued by injuries.
“I see that he definitely wants to be prepared for the halfpipe. If that’s where he thinks that he can win the gold medal, that’s a smart choice,” she told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “But obviously he’s going to be disappointed to not be in the first slopestyle event that was ever in the Olympics.”
Vonn said she had a chance to examine the Alpine course and found them “absolutely perfect.”
“I’m not sure how the slopestyle course is, but obviously if Shaun's not racing, that kind of speaks for itself,” she said.