It is fair to call Shaun White the face of snowboarding.
The most decorated Winter X Games Athlete in both total medals and gold medals, White had also claimed gold in Snowboarding Halfpipe in Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010.
But in a stunner, White not only missed out on the gold, but he failed to make it to the podium altogether Tuesday in Sochi, Russia. Switzerland’s Iouri “I-Pod” Podladtchikov took home the top honors, while Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka of Japan snatched silver and bronze, respectively.
White’s failure to medal comes days after he surprisingly pulled out of the first-ever Olympic slopestyle event before qualifying, when he decided to “focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA.”
White had taken a year to concentrate on slopestyle, hoping to go for double gold. It is speculated that he was worried about picking up an injury during the event, which would have kept him from the halfpipe competition. White and Canadian Mark McMorris both suffered injuries on the Sochi course while practicing two weeks ago.
A few of White’s Canadian competitors were none too pleased with his decision to pull out of the event. Max Parrot, who finished fifth in the event Saturday, called White out via Twitter Feb. 5.
“Shaun knows he won’t be able to win the slopes, that’s why he pulled out. He’s scared!” the tweet from Parrot’s personal account, @MaxParrot said. The tweet was later deleted.
American Sage Kotsenburg took home the gold in slopestyle, Norwegian Ståle Sandbech snagged silver and McMorris won the bronze.
Many of the top riders competing this month voiced their concerns with not only the slopestyle course but also with the halfpipe. American Hannah Teter, who won gold on the halfpipe in 2006, suggested that the event be pushed back.
“They should push it back is what they should do, and fix it so we can showcase snowboarding the way it needs to be showcased. Not as a junk show, which is what it was looking like right now,” Teter said.
White also voiced his disappointment after practice Monday.
“It’s hard to get in there and have all the tricks and have everything that you need and not be able to get to the wall,” White said.
White failing to even medal is the most surprising result of the Sochi games thus far. He also pulled out of all competition at the X Games in January to concentrate on the Olympic tournament.
Tuesday, White earned the highest score of the night in the semifinals with a 95.75, but his highest score on his two final runs was a 90.25, which was only good enough for a fourth place finish. Podladtchikov registered a 94.75, while Hirano received a 93.50 and Hiraoka a 92.25.
White is considered the best at his sport, but missing out on a medal on the world’s biggest stage will only make it harder for him to stay at the top.
If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. Now he has something to prove.