Shaun White's road to Winter Olympics halfpipe gold just got easier with I-Pod out

Shaun White skipped last month's Winter X Games while battling the flu to fully focus on the Pyeongchang Winter Games. That decision is looking better now that Olympic halfpipe champion Iouri Podladtchikov -- more commonly known as I-Pod -- won't defend his title due to injuries he sustained during a nasty fall in the X Games halfpipe final.

According to the Associated Press, I-Pod practiced on the Olympic halfpipe Friday, but said afterward that it would be "totally unreasonable" for him to compete.

I-Pod, 29, who was born in Russia but competes for Switzerland, slammed his face against the halfpipe while attempting a 1260-degree flip at the end of a run. His legs crumpled upon re-entry and his head smacked the lower part of the halfpipe wall, leaving him motionless at the bottom of the pipe. 

After medical personnel rushed to a motionless  Podladtchikov, they took about 20 minutes to stabilize Podladtchikov's neck and strap him into a sled to be taken to Aspen Valley Hospital. In a statement, the X Games said CT scans were negative for a brain or neck injury but that Podladtchikov suffered a nasal fracture.

Podladtchikov made the trip to South Korea with the hopes of competing, with men's halfpipe qualifying starting Tuesday, but told the AP he realized competingn wouldn't be possible and plans to go home Saturday. 

He said his most recent MRI "certainly showed some improvements. But my state of health remains far too unstable to allow me to compete at the level of Olympic competition."

That narrows the list of serious  contenders for gold to three, barring a major shocker: White, the two-time gold medalist, 2014 silver medalist Ayumu Hirano and Australia's Scotty James.

White's focus this season has been on the Olympics

He met with the media on Thursday and practiced on Friday before marching with Team USA in Friday's Opening Ceremony and getting a few selfies with Lindsey Vonn and Gus Kenworthy.  

The two-time Olympic medalist almost saw his shot at a fourth Olympics wiped out when he crashed on a 22-foot superpipe in New Zealand during an October training session. The accident forced White to get 62 stitches in his face and even consider retirement, but it didn't prevent him from, three months later, clinching a return to the Olympics with a perfect 100-point qualifying run at the U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass, Colo.  

Japan's Ayumu Hirano, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist who is also a serious threat for gold, won the X Games final after stomping back-to-back 1440-degree spins to clinch a winning score of 99. I-Pod was the first rider to ever complete a 1440 -- known as the Yolo Flip -- in a contest ahead of the 2014 Sochi Games. 

How to watch Shaun White in the halfpipe at the Olympics

Date: Monday, Feb. 12
Event: Men's qualifying
Time: 11:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Stream: fuboTV (try for free).

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 13  
Event: Men's gold medal final
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Stream: fuboTV (try for free). 

NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app will combine to present more than 1,800 hours of streaming coverage, including live streaming of all NBC network Primetime broadcasts. The NBC Sports App will present live streamed and on-demand coverage of all competition across all 15 sports and 102 medal events. You can also stream all of NBC's coverage on fuboTV (try for free). 

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