Shaun White’s singular focus has always been the halfpipe, and given his track record of forsaking slopestyle, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that he bailed at the first sign of adversity, announcing his withdrawal from slopestyle early Wednesday. While they may not have been surprised, a number of riders responded on twitter, some supportive and some not.
Both Max Parrot and Seb Toots accused him of quitting because he knew he couldn’t win. Sage Kotsenburg made some crack about the #PullOutMethod… (not surprisingly, these tweets appear to have been deleted). Louie Vito came to his defense, and Todd Richards basically said “Cry me a river!”, with this shot:
Although it is arguably better for Team USA, as Louie Vito said, to have a healthy Shaun White in the stunt ditch, rather than lose him entirely there still plenty of reason to consider this a total dick move.
Ian Thorley, a Michigan-grown snowboarder who competes on the TTR World Tour took to Facebook this morning with a few choice words, commenting on White’s last-minute decision by offering $50 to whoever bests Mr. Tomato in the pipe, and also this rant:
I was starting to be a fan of shaun white… Until now! Shaun is a little Whinny (sic) bitch! For anyone who doesn’t know he pulled out of slopestyle. He has taken a spot away from another rider just as capable as him. We could have had 4 US riders in the event now we only have 3 and that is so unfair to the rider currently in 5th position and the entire country! …
Them’s fightin’ words. I caught up with Ian this evening and this is what he had to say.
David: Ian you were pretty vocal about Shaun’s decision to withdraw. A lot of people are upset with this. Why?
Ian: First of all [Shaun White] is among the best in the world. There is no question about that. He’s an amazing snowboarder. But I think he pulled out because he doesn’t feel he could win.
He’s been watching the competition for the past few days, during practice to see what everyone else does. This is part of his routine, to see what he’s up against and what type of run he’ll have to throw down to win. There’s no doubt he could put down a top-5 run and to most snowboarders finishing in the top 5 at the Olympics is a huge accomplishment. But to him, if he’s not first, it’s a waste of his time.
David: The way I see it, he had to have known that at the first hint of adversity, he would pull out to focus on his primary goal of winning the halfpipe. So he was never going in to slopestyle with 100% of his effort, right? This isn’t the first time he’s pulled something like this, either.
Ian: Yeah. I mean look at the timing of it all. He pulls out 20 hours before. There is no time to get an alternate in place, even though there’s lots of people who should and could be out there. It’s not right of him to take that opportunity away [from other riders].
And he’s done this before, on Dew Tour and at X Games. He did this at Dew last year in the finals, where I missed the finals by one spot. I don’t know if he knows or thinks about how these decisions impact the rest of the riders. Someone else who really wanted that spot should be there.
David: So you don’t think the safety concerns really weigh in the decision?
Ian: Look, on the first day the build was not quite right. But by day 2, it was fixed. Some of my friends who are out there, they told me it’s been fixed and it’s a big course for sure but it’s a big event. You need a big course for a big event like the Olympics and as a competitor you just have to man up to show people what we can do.
We’ve ridden more dangerous courses, and we’ve hit bigger jumps than this. Maybe not in slopestyle but the big air jumps we all hit are bigger… And if you look at how long the landings are in particular, the course is relatively safe. The landings go on forever, and you know our biggest risk really is coming up short or overshooting it. The riders out there say the speed is not an issue, and the landings are so long it’s impossible to overshoot.
David: What about the first rail section? From where I’m sitting it does look like a street drop-in how close it is to the first set. I can see how that’s a little sketchy.
Ian: They’ve made a big deal about that first segment because of what happened to Torstein but it is the same, the exact same one that he has ridden in two or three other events this year. And it’s built to spec. He’s been riding this feature extremely well up until Monday.
As for the injuries you know another rider, a Finnish rider also got hurt. But if you look at any big competition it is not uncommon for two or three riders to get injured. Slopestyle in general is dangerous but the way this course is set gives enough speed and really long landings.
David: Anything else about Mr. White?
Ian: Ultimately the way he handles himself, really blows my mind. He could do a whole lot more for the sport. But take this, the High Roller Big Air event that he was involved with. I did that event. There were 10 of us or maybe 8 of us I think, he was putting it on and he sat down one day after dinner with everyone for a few minutes.
But as soon as he got up from the table right when you’re thinking “Oh this is cool because he never talks with other riders, you know?”, then his assistants were all over us with video release forms for his movie… like that’s what this was all about, like you’ve been used.
So there you have it. It really boils down to the timing and lack of consideration for how this selfish decision impacts other riders (I think Brandon Davis was fifth to qualify and would have been the alternate) who would’ve really sold out to ride that course and put down the best possible run they could.
For all the talk about being such a serious competitor — which may well be true for the halfpipe — when it comes to slopestyle, it seems like his heart has never really been in it, that he competes when it’s convenient for him and that’s it. So maybe he should step aside next time, and let someone compete who really does want it.