Shaun White disappointed fans when he chose to drop out of the Winter X-Games in Aspen just a couple of weeks ago so that he could train for the Olympics. Now, he has chosen to drop out of an Olympic event as well. Due to concerns about injuries, course quality, and preparation for the halfpipe, White will no longer be competing in the first-ever Olympic slopestyle event.
Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo is not a household name, especially outside of the tight-knit snowboard community. Unfortunately, the slopestyle medal favorite for the 2014 Sochi Games isn’t going to gain star status any time soon, as some might have predicted, thanks to the fact that he broke his shoulder during an Olympic training run. In the coming weeks, his name is certain to be used more often now that White has withdrawn from the competition because of injury concerns.
White, the 27 year-old who earned the moniker the “Flying Tomato” back when he had long red hair, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He took gold in the halfpipe events in both 2006 and 2010, and was hoping to earn two medals this year. That will not be the case, as he is no longer in the running for the slopestyle event after he tweaked his wrist during a practice run yesterday.
A wrist injury might seem minor, especially for a snowboarder, but White has also been dealing with ankle and shoulder injuries that occurred during Olympic qualifying. The combination makes participating in two different events too burdensome.
To some extent, White downplayed the injuries. “I’m feeling healthy,” he said. “In snowboarding you get bumps and bruises all the time.”
However, he has not shied away from the fact that injuries, both current and potential, played a factor in his decision. “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,” said White. Though not outwardly saying so, it seems pretty clear that the Horgmo injury has weighed on him and, perhaps not surprisingly to some who has followed White’s career, his top priority is being healthy for the pipe.
The fact that the course is not perfect has also played a role. “There are definitely concerns about the course,” he said.”It’s been interesting to see how it’s developed and changed over the past couple days. The big question is if it will continue to change. Because every day, they have riders meetings and they give feedback. Sometimes there’s changes, sometimes there’s not.”
Some Olympic and snowboarding fans might be flummoxed by health and course concerns impacting White’s decision to withdraw, especially considering the fact that this is the first time that slopestyle, a judged competition, will be included in the Games. Even other athletes are not necessarily pleased with the choice. Fellow rider Canadian Sebastian Toutant Tweeted, “Mr. White…it’s easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win.”
White, however, is not the only athlete to express concerns about the course. He said it was “a little intimidating” and Canadian Mark McMorris noted that some of the ramps were “obnoxiously tall.” For such experienced riders, those small sentiments should loom large.
Torah Bright, an Australian boarder who will compete in three women’s competitions, was also vocal and highly critical. “We’re here as the world’s best snowboarders,” she told the Associated Press. “Too bad we don’t have a world-class course. The craftsmanship doesn’t match the world-class athletes that are here.”
“It’s a little intense, a little challenging,” added American rider Jamie Anderson, a gold medal favorite amongst the women. “The jumps are a little weird. I’m having a questionable time getting used to them.”
Even Toutant himself told the Olympic News Service, “It’s like jumping out of a building.”
Course designer Anders Forsell and his team have made some changes to the course in response to feedback from the athletes, and International Ski Federation official Roberto Moresi says that organizers were fixing the course to “make it more smooth.” Whether or not those changes will be sufficient to make both the boarders and skiers who will ride it feel comfortable during competition remains to be seen.
Despite challenges on the course and a visible lack of Shaun White, the slopestyle event will definitely draw a lot of gasps and bring some fierce competition as great riders like Sage Kotsenburg are still competing. But, in reality, White is the most recognizable and decorated snowboarder in the world.
As a result, he recognizes the gravity of his withdrawal and. His decision, he said, is “…not one I take lightly. 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.”