Shaun White robbed the American public of the right to watch their best snowboarder compete in the new Slopestyle event in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
White, the undisputed king of snowboarding in its short existence as a competitive sport, was expected to compete in the new Olympic event at Sochi. But after an injury to his wrist, he announced that he is dropping out of the event due to the risk of injury and his desire to focus on going for a third straight gold in the halfpipe. White and several other competitors had noted after practice runs that the course was especially treacherous.
Immediately after the news broke that White would be backing out of the Slopestyle, two Canadian snowboarders took to twitter to bash him for not stepping up to the challenge. Both athletes, Sebastien Toutant and Maxence Parrot, tweeted to the effect that White was stepping down from the Slopestyle not because he was concerned about the injury risk, but because he knew that he couldn’t win.
White is the most marketable star that the downhill scene has ever had. He knows that if his Sochi games are remembered solely for being the first American to win gold in three straight winter Olympics, then he will ride off into the sunset with a future filled with TV appearances and top-dollar commercial endorsement deals. But if his Olympics are tainted by a bad fall or just simply a failure to medal in the Slopestyle, his image will take a hit.
A savvy business mind, White knows how much a bad highlight in the Slopestyle can hurt him. He also knows that he likely won’t win the event. He isn’t dropping out because he’s worried about injuring his body, he’s dropping out because he’s worried about injuring his brand.
The real losers in all of this are the fans who were looking forward to White giving his best in the Slopestyle. Even if he didn’t win, it would have been great to see the best American snowboarder represent his country and try his best to bring home a medal.