Rarely do you hear of the world's most popular athlete in a given sport describe a course as “intimidating,” but that's how Shaun White, looking to capture the Olympics' inaugural snowboard slopestyle gold medal, described Sochi's Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
“A little intimidating,” White said to the AP after Tuesday's training session. “It's been a challenge.”
White fell on Tuesday and jammed his left wrist, adding to the growing list of lingering injuries that has plagued the U.S. Olympic team's most popular member. But it hasn't just been White who's been tormented by the Olympic slopestyle course.
Norway's Torstein Horgmo, a prior favorite, suffered a broken collarbone after a fall off a rail on Monday and is out for the Games. Marika Enne of Finland suffered a concussion and was hauled off on a stretcher on Tuesday following another fall. It's no wonder White's apprehensive.
White, who's also looking to win his third-straight Olympic halfpipe title, will look to qualify in slopestyle on Thursday. Slopestyle asks riders to combine a series of tricks throughout a course filled with rails, quarterpipes and intimidating jumps. White has won five X-Games titles in the slopestyle discipline.
Not many riders are pleased with the amount of risks Sochi's course assumes. Nearly every rider voiced concerns from the heights of the jumps, to the impact of the landings, to the speed of the course.
“It's frustrating to see it,” White said. “It puts a damper on the whole mood, and it's kind of like you're getting ready to do a big trick and you see something like [the injuries]. Intimidating. Unfortunate. I'm hoping the builders can make some changes and the course has a little more of a friendly vibe. But I can't change the course. Doing the best I can.”
One of White's chief rivals in the slopestyle competition figures to be Canada's Mark McMorris, who described the take-off ramps as “kind of obnoxiously tall.” According to the AP, one theory is that course engineers overcompensated for the above-freezing temperatures in Sochi -- which they've been this week.
After a Georgian luger died on the eve of the Vancouver Games, it's safe to assume that course builders will heed the advice of the riders and adjust the course to minimize risk.