Friday, February 07, 2014
Forget about the hotel rooms and the funky toilets. Don’t forget about the gay rights crackdown and the poisoning of stray dogs. But the Winter Olympics in Sochi are off to a very bad start, losing perhaps their biggest star, all for want of a calendar
Yesterday, one of the biggest stars in these Games, snowboarder Shaun White quietly announced that he was dropping out of the slopestyle competition. That’s right. The two-time defending halfpipe champion is dropping out of the new event and a chance at a second gold medal.
Why? The course is simply too dangerous. A very smart Men’s Journal story by Andrew Burmon reports that the Sochi course was designed by a European, while most of the best courses have been created by North Americans. Unlike building a halfpipe, which is largely an engineering feat, a slopestyle course in which riders catch big air over huge jumps, gives the designer a lot more latitude.
The Olympics course, according to most riders, is simply too dangerous with not enough margin for error when a trick goes wrong. White hurt his wrist in a fall this week in practice, but he dismissed it as part of the normal bumps and bruises of the sport. However, other athletes weren’t so lucky, with a broken collarbone and a concussion among the early casualties during the training runs. White clearly took notice of these athletes, whose Games ended before they really started.
A specialist in halfpipe, White wouldn’t have been the favorite in slopestyle–that’s 2013 X-Games champ Mark McMorris of Canada–but he would have been a favorite. White had dominated slopestyle during the Oughts, before it was an Olympic event, and won a Slopstyle Gold at the X-Games in Tignes as recently as 2012.
The course was a big problem, but the course isn’t the only reason White pulled out. It was the scheduling of this first-time Olympic event.
The slopestyle begins today, before the Opening Ceremonies. The halfpipe doesn’t begin until February 11. You don’t have to be an X-Games veteran to realize that if the Sochi organizers and the IOC decided to flop the events, and hold the halfpipe first, White certainly wouldn’t have pulled out. And while NBC and other televisions rights holders certainly hold some sway in scheduling decisions, it’s not hard to imagine that they would jump at the chance to get twice as much Shaun White.
It’s not that Shaun White is concerned about getting hurt per se, he’s worried about getting hurt and missing the halfpipe. Hold the slopestyle just before the closing ceremonies, and it’s all but certain that the sport’s biggest name competes.
Roger McCarthy, who designed the slalom courses in Sochi, told Men’s Journal made a Summer Olympics analogy, noting that a sprinter like Usain Bolt “doesn’t run a relay just before the big race.”
“You spend $50 billion on the Olympics and Shaun White won’t compete in slopestyle,” McCarthy adds. “What does that tell you?”
What’s your take on Shaun White? On the start of the Winter Olympics? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Copyright : forbes.com