Snowboarder Shaun White has announced that he is dropping out of the slopestyle event at the Sochi Olympics.
The event is scheduled to start Thursday. White will still compete in halfpipe, his usual sport, but he says Sochi's slopestyle course, with its larger-than-usual jumps, is too risky for him.
Slopestyle snowboarding is the newest event at the Olympics, although boarders have been doing it for more than a decade. It's a ski hill filled with obstacles — imagine a skate park covered with snow.
On Tuesday, White spoke on the course about how excited he was to show slopestyle to the world.
"Massive jumps, there's multiple flips, there's rails," he said. "It's pretty exciting to watch."
It was scheduled to be the first event of the entire Olympics, before the opening ceremony. And White was the big celebrity — the big star of the show.
But even Tuesday, he was showing some reluctance. The jumps on the Rosa Khutor extreme course were cut too big, causing the snowboards to drop too far on the landing. One boarder said it was like jumping out of a building.
Torstein Horgmo, one of the top snowboarders in the world, broke his collarbone Monday. White tweaked his wrist on a takeoff Tuesday, and he said he saw three boarders injured at practice.
"It's frustrating to see," he said. "It definitely puts a damper on the whole mood, and, you know, it's kind of like you're getting ready to do your big trick and you see something like that — it's a bit intimidating."
"I'm hoping that the builders make some changes," he added, "and that the course maybe has a little bit more of a friendly vibe later on."
But that was yesterday. In White's statement today to NBC News, he said he wants to focus on winning his third gold medal in halfpipe. "The potential risk of injury [on the slopestyle course] is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on."
Certainly adding to his concern was his injury earlier this season while attempting a slopestyle jump. During the qualifier for the Olympics, he botched a landing and planted his face into the snow in what the announcer called a "brutal crash."
Lots of athletes have expressed concern about the Sochi course, but so far, White is the only athlete to withdraw. And some of his teammates had no problem with the course: Sage Kotsenburg said Tuesday he liked the big jumps.
"You got to come to the course with an open mindset," Kotsenburg said. "Some people are freaking out because it's a big course, but it's built really good, and snow's getting better."
"When you look at it, it is a crazy big course, but every course is dangerous," he said. "This one's just a big course; it's just like X Games."
Kotsenburg and the other slopestyle boarders had spent a lot of time talking about how valuable it was to have White on the team; he was going to be a big TV draw.
But factoring into White's decision must have been how much he has to risk: He has his own clothing line, snowboard products, sunglasses, a new band with a new album, and a self-made documentary about his preparation for the Olympics.
"I'm going into this Olympics with a whole new level of confidence, way beyond what anybody could imagine — not only show them that I came here to win, but I want it to be very apparent that there's no question," he says in the documentary.
White's departure from the event will be a huge hit to the U.S. team. Officials say they will not announce a replacement.
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