SOCHI, Russia — Shaun White, the two-time defending gold medalist in halfpipe snowboarding and one of the United States' faces of the Games, on Wednesday pulled out of the slopestyle snowboard competition, which debuts at the Olympics today, with little explanation as to why.
"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," White said in a statement. "The difficult decision to forgo slopestyle is not one I take lightly, as I know how much effort everyone has put in to holding the slopestyle event for the first time in Olympic history, a history I had planned on being a part of."
Before the Olympics added halfpipe and enticed White to give it his full attention, his preferred event was slopestyle. He used to dominate slopestyle, in which the course is akin to an ice-covered obstacle course with jumps, rails and boxes. Riders can negotiate the course any way they choose and are rewarded for the daring and creativity of the jumps, flips and spins.
White had been training for the Olympic slopestyle and halfpipe for a year, saying his goal was to win double golds. He remains the prohibitive favorite in the halfpipe Tuesday. He was considered a strong medal contender in slopestyle, too, but not the favorite. Canada's Max Parrot, a gold-medal favorite in slopestyle, wrote on Twitter: "Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, that's why he pulled out. He's scared!" (The post was later deleted.)
White's decision came after a few days on the course, criticized by many top riders for its difficulty and the size of its jumps. White fell in a practice run this week and injured his left wrist, though he played that down in a news conference shortly before his statement was released.
Other top athletes echoed White's concern about the slopestyle course. Canada's Kaya Turski, a four-time X Games gold medalist and favorite to win the Olympics, called it "unnecessarily risky." Medal contender Torstein Horgmo of Norway broke his collarbone on one of the course's rails and is out of the competition.
Nordic combined skier to carry U.S. flag: Todd Lodwick, the first American to compete in six Winter Games, was named the flag-bearer for Friday's opening ceremony. Lodwick, 37, competes in Nordic combined, which consists of ski jumping and cross-country skiing. He was a member of the 2010 silver-medal-winning team.
Another event debut: Team figure skating also debuts at the Olympics today. Ten countries, including the United States, will send out one entry in each of the four disciplines: men, women, pairs and dance. The nation with the highest total score after the short and long programs wins.
More Jamaican adventures: Jamaica's beloved bobsled team had to raise money just to get to Russia. When it finally got there, its luggage, with the runners for its two-man sled and all its sliding gear, was missing. So the Jamaicans were unable to make their first practice runs Wednesday. But all the missing pieces arrived later in the day, the team said on its Twitter account, and it was ready for practice this morning.
. Fast facts
When/where: Friday-Feb. 23, Sochi, Russia (Sochi is nine hours ahead).
Today: Competitions begin in advance of Friday's opening ceremony in team figure skating (new event), slopestyle snowboarding (new event) and freestyle skiing.
TV: 8-11 p.m., Ch. 8: team figure skating, men's and pairs short program; men's and women's slopestyle snowboarding, qualifications; women's freestyle skiing, moguls qualifying.
Web: Live event streaming at nbcolympics.com/liveextra