SOCHI, Russia -- When Shaun White met reporters for a press conference Wednesday afternoon with the rest of Team USA's halfpipers, the snowboarding sensation did most of the talking. But he clearly did not say one thing he was really thinking. Instead, he let the word come straight from the mouth of Matt Lauer, who led Wednesday's Today Show with the news. Just one day before the Olympic debut of the snowboard slopestyle event, White, snowboarding's biggest name, withdrew from the slopestyle competition, citing "the potential risk of injury" on a course that has drawn concerns about its safety.
"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."
Two days ago, Norway's Torstein Horgmo, a podium contender, fell off a rail feature and broke his collarbone, while Finland's Marika Enne suffered a concussion after a crash on the course on Tuesday. White, too, jammed his wrist after falling during a practice session but said Wednesday, before announcing his withdrawal, "I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit.... I definitely jammed it, but... in snowboarding, you get bumps and bruises all the time."
Though he gave no indication he would withdraw just 45 minutes later, White did relay his feelings about the slopestyle course with reporters Wednesday. "Definitely concerns about the course," he said. "It's been interesting to see how it's developed and changed over the past few days, and I guess the big question is if it will continue to change because every day they have the riders' meeting and they give feedback. Sometimes there's changes and sometimes there's not."
Before White could elaborate on the specific concerns, however, the U.S. snowboarding official interrupted, asking to focus only on the halfpipe competition. "There will be a time and place to speak about the other stuff," the official said.
Well, it turns out, there won't be.
The U.S. team later announced it would not fill the vacated spot with a replacement, and White's absence will mean he'll forfeit the chance to become the first Winter Olympian with at least four events to win every event he's entered. Not that a slopestyle win for White was a sure thing. In fact, according to some of his fiercest competitors, he was far from it. Unlike his dominance in the halfpipe, White's slopestyle results have been mixed. He won gold in the 2009 Winter X Games but failed to make the final in 2012.
After White's news broke, it wasn't long before Canada's 21-year-old medal favorite Sebastien Toutant and Maxence Parrot (Parrot has since deleted his tweet, but a screenshot of it is below) gave their takes.
Mr. White... It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win... — Sebastien Toutant (@SebToots) February 5, 2014
White is expected to respond at that aforementioned "time and place" for non-halfpipe stuff. That is to say, don't count on it.