Rachel Axon, USA TODAY
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Shaun White's quest for two golds in one Olympics ended Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours before he was slated to compete here, the American snowboarder announced on NBC's TODAY that he would not compete in slopestyle as he had previously planned. The two-time defending gold medalist in the halfpipe, White is seeking to become the first American man to win an event in three consecutive Winter Olympics.
"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 said in a statement shared exclusively with TODAY. "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 being a part of."
White cited continuing concerns about the course in his reason to preserve himself for the halfpipe. As is custom with most snowboarding events, riders met with course officials after testing it out. Among their requests was waxing the rails and to adjust the landing on at least one jump.
"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 in his statement.
"I'm feeling healthy," he said in a news conference here around an hour before making the announcement. "Definitely concerns about the course. It's been interesting to see how it's developed and changed over the past few days. I guess the big question is if it will continue to change."
Before he made the announcement, he made it clear that halfpipe held priority over slopestyle for him.
"I definitely feel like halfpipe is carrying a bit more weight, a little bit more pressure," he said.
He was not favored to win gold in slopestyle and faced a challenge to even medal. Canadian Mark McMorris remains the gold medal favorite despite breaking a rib at the X Games last month. Several other Canadians and Norwegians are expected to challenge for a spot on the podium.
White was once dominant in the event, winning eight X Games medals, before stepping away to focus on halfpipe for the Olympics. When he returned to competition, he found how far the sport had progressed in his absence.
Led by McMorris and Norwegian Torstein Horgmo, the triple cork became the must-have move to compete for a spot on the podium. Horgmo was considered a medal favorite but will not compete here after breaking his collarbone in training Monday.
With Horgmo out, Canadian Maxence Parrot and Norwegian Stale Sandbech remain strong medal contenders. In winning X Games gold this year, Parrot became the first rider to land two triple corks in a run. Although he had worked on them in practice, White had yet to cleanly land a triple cork in competition.
Shortly after White's announcement, Parrot tweeted, "Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, thats why he pulled out. He's scared!"
Fellow American Scotty Lago, who won bronze in 2010 but did not make the Olympic halfpipe team this year, tweeted, "Shaun drops out of slope in Sochi! The podium just opened up a tiny bit."
Had White competed in the event and advanced out of the qualifying round, he would have had to compete on Saturday, which is the first day the halfpipe is open for practice.
Asked at the news conference how he would manage that, White indicated that he might have skipped practice that day, saying, "Just gonna rely on my super strength to take my through. … In actuality, it's tough juggling both events.
"Losing a day of practice is a serious thing, especially with a new course and the challenges that we're facing in slopestyle in certain things, there are concerns," he said. "It's still a decision that I'm mulling over."
Snowboarding does not allow for alternate riders, so another American will not compete in the event. Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel are the remaining Americans in the event.