KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Shaun White pulled out of the Olympic slopestyle contest Wednesday, about 24 hours after being banged up on a course that riders are criticizing as unduly harsh.
White issued a statement, saying that after much deliberation, he has decided to forgo the new Olympic snowboarding event and concentrate on halfpipe, where he will try for his third straight gold medal next week.
“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.
After jamming his left wrist during practice Tuesday, White called the slopestyle course “a little intimidating.” Medal favorite Mark McMorris of Canada agreed, saying the takeoff ramps were built “kind of obnoxiously tall.”
Another top rider, Torstein Horgmo of Norway, was forced out after breaking his collarbone during practice Monday, while on Tuesday, Finnish rider Marika Enne was carted off the course with a concussion.
Many athletes said the dangers of the course were being overblown. Among them was White’s U.S. teammate and fellow Northstar California Team rider Chas Guldemond of Truckee.
“Stoked to do Olympic qualifiers tomorrow!” Guldemond posted to his Facebook page Wednesday morning. “People say the course is not safe but they are wrong. The jumps are sick and the flow is really good. Dont 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. #shouldhavemannedup.”
The criticism was not limited to teammates.
“Mr. White... It’s easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win,” Canadian rider Sebastian Toutant tweeted.
Others, however, admitted they were having a tough time.
“It’s a little intense, a little challenging,” said Jamie Anderson of South Lake Tahoe, a gold-medal favorite on the women’s side. “The jumps are still a little weird. I’m having a questionable time getting used to them. But I’m just being slow, patient, taking them one jump at a time.”
While White is favored to win gold in the halfpipe, his prospects for slopestyle were uncertain, at best. He’s the five-time Winter X Games champion, though he more or less gave up the event about six years ago to focus solely on the halfpipe. But he hurt his ankle on the halfpipe in the season’s first Olympic qualifier, then bashed his shoulder during a nasty fall in slopestyle about a month later.
He pulled out of events and changed his mind about the X Games a few times before skipping that as well. In all, it has been a hectic lead-up period as he tried to juggle both events, and it didn’t stop once he reached Russia. The slopestyle final is set for Saturday, which would cost him the first day of practice on the halfpipe.
“It’s tough juggling both events,” said White, who will compete in the halfpipe, along with Truckee’s Danny Davis, on Tuesday. “Definitely not easy. It’s something that’s been talked about quite a bit. Losing a day of practice is a serious thing, especially with a new course and the challenges I’d face in slopestyle.”
White’s stunning decision — withdrawing from an event added to the program in part to increase his exposure on the world’s biggest stage — is yet another blow for the still-to-start Sochi Games, which have been wracked by security threats, political fighting and the loss of at least one other headliner, injured American skier Lindsey Vonn.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves and Sierra Sun Sports Editor Sylas Wright contributed to this report.