Shaun White after he qualified for the US Olympic slopestyle team at the Mammoth Grand Prix in January. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

Shaun White drops out of slopestyle at Sochi Winter Olympics

Just minutes before Shaun White's withdrawal from slope became public, he was in a press conference answering a question about how he was planning to cope with potentially riding in slopestyle finals on Saturday and then beginning pipe practice in the same day. "I'm just going to rely on my super strength," Shaun joked. Yet he seemed resigned. "It's tough juggling both events," he added. "Losing a day of practice is a serious thing, especially with the challenges that were faced in slopestyle and certain things, there are concerns." He closed by saying he was "mulling over" his decision to ride in Saturday's pipe practice.

It must have been an uncomfortable few moments for Shaun knowing that the press release about him dropping out of slope was about to go live. The reason Shaun was stepping down, the release said, was because he wanted to focus on winning a third straight gold medal in pipe.

The release also contained this statement from Shaun: "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."

The surprise announcement comes after Shaun had some tough days during slopestyle practice, where he hurt his wrist after falling on one of the jumps. That injury follows a black eye he sustained during training at Copper Mountain last week. Other riders at Sochi have complained about the rails being sticky and the jumps too poppy, and as the clear pipe favorite Shaun wasn’t willing to jeopardize his shot at another gold on a course he wasn’t comfortable with.

"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," he said in statement.

Add it together and it looks like his dual slopestyle and halfpipe medal hopes might have been too high in the end.

And there's another possible element at work here. Although Shaun’s a strong slope rider he was far from the top contender heading into Sochi where he would face riders like Mark McMorris, Max Parrot, Seb Toutant, Sven Thorgren, Stale Sandbech, and Sage Kotsenburg all of whom stood to beat him. Even with Torstein Horgmo out of the picture after breaking his collarbone, was a slope podium truly a reality for him? Perhaps not.

As Shaun’s announcement spread, fellow slope riders have turned to social media to call him out.  "Mr. White… It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win…" Seb Toutant Tweeted.

And on his Facebook wall Chas Guldemond posted the following: “People say the course is not safe but they are wrong. The jumps are sick and the flow is really good. Don’t believe the media hype. I am real bummed that one our fellow American boys is not here to ride with us because somebody decided not to compete today. Pretty Lame.”

Which leads to one other piece of fallout from this: since the announcement came so late there won't be time to enter an alternate rider in Shaun's place.

With Torstein sidelined, slopestyle is now down two star riders. But the show goes on. Qualifiers start tomorrow at 10 a.m. Moscow time, 10 p.m. Wednesday, Pacific.


More stories from the Sochi Winter Olympics here