Shaun White is striving to win a gold medal in snowboard slopestyle as that discipline makes its Olympic debut this week at the Sochi Games in Russia.
But at the same time, after jamming his wrist during a hard crash Tuesday, he acknowledged being daunted by a course that is being criticized by some as too dangerous.
"[The course is] a little intimidating," White, who is the latest to suffer injury on the slopestyle setup, told the Associated Press. "It's been a challenge."
On Monday, Norway's Torstein Horgmo, who came into the Games as a strong candidate to make the podium, suffered a broken collarbone during a fall in the upper rail section on the course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. His 2014 Winter Olympics experience, from a competition standpoint, is over.
On Tuesday, Finnish snowboarder Marika Enne struck her head and was taken away on a stretcher. Some blamed course designers for manufacturing a layout that is simply too dicey.
(The jumps, perhaps overbuilt to accommodate for snowmelt that did not occur, were described by some as being too big and/or steep. Some alterations were made Monday in consideration of rider feedback.)
But is the course really too dangerous? These, after all, are the Olympics. Isn't the slopestyle course—during its Olympics premiere—supposed to challenge the world's best snowboarders?
Aren't injuries, whether during practice or actual competition, part of the sport?
It depends on which athlete is being asked.
Said U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg to the Los Angeles Times, "There's no way this is too dangerous. I mean, someone got hurt yesterday, Torstein. It's a shame to see. [But] it could have happened to any one of us.
"He's doing a trick I've seen him do 100 times on rails that are gnarlier than the one he did it on." (Video is posted above and is not for the faint of heart.)
Kotsenburg on Tuesday tweeted, “We hear the Sochi course is dangerous… yea X Games is all lollipops and unicorns the whole way down we aren’t used to dangerous courses haha."
Mark McMorris, who along with White is a gold-medal hopeful, is nursing a broken rib suffered during the X Games less than two weeks ago. He skipped training Monday but made his first practice runs Tuesday.
He's quoted by the AP as saying the jump takeoffs are built “kind of obnoxiously tall.” But overall, he said of the course, “I don’t think it’s dangerous. Snowboarding’s dangerous. But crossing the street is dangerous too.”
Even White, upon further reflection after his fall, was downplaying the danger factor at Sochi versus other venues.
"It's interesting any time you step out on a course; there's a certain amount of danger, a certain element of risk, that you're putting yourself in for," White, who already has two gold medals in halfpipe from previous Olympics, told reporters. "I don't know, maybe this course might have a little bit more than others. But we're trying to figure it out. That's what it's all about."
If nothing else, injuries to Horgmo, Enne, and White have placed even more of a media spotlight on snowboard slopestyle, which will hold its finals on Friday (women's) and Saturday (men's).
If the course really is that challenging, it ought to make for compelling viewing.
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