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Commentary: Shaun White leaves Sochi Olympics with no medals and tarnished image

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Shockingly, Shaun White will depart the Sochi Olympics with no medals and a tarnished image. It’s clear that he no longer resides alone at the top among snowboarders.

A new king was crowned on Tuesday. Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov was the daring gold medal winner in the halfpipe competition that ended White’s reign over the sport.

Will the Sochi Olympics become the beginning of the end for the talented snowboarder. White has dominated the sport for nearly a decade?

Controversy brewed when the 27-year-pld White bowed out of the slopestyle event because of an injury, compounded by a difficult course that had many snowboarders complaining in training runs. Several competitors had the audacity to suggest that White withdrew for one reason: he couldn’t win.

Perhaps they were right!

Canada’s Max Parrot, who captured gold at the slopestyle X Games last month in Aspen, tweeted: “Shaun knows he won’t be able to win the slopes, that’s why he pulled out. He’s scared!”

White, who has trained at Northstar California ski resort’s superpipe the previous two winters, was saving himself for the halfpipe, hoping to add a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in an event he dominated at the previous two Games.

But that plan backfired today when White had two uncharacteristic bad runs by his standards and was nowhere to be seen when the Olympic medals were handed out. He finished fourth, which was unthinkable heading into the Sochi Olympics.

And the word coming out of the Olympic village was some of his rivals, who have been in his luminous shadow for years, were feeling pretty good about White’s departure from Sochi with no hardware.

White certainly received no sympathy from U.S. teammate Danny Davis of Truckee.

“You know it’s good for snowboarding, man,” Davis said. “The world knows now that there are other snowboarders besides Shaun. It’s great, man, because there are a bunch of good riders in our sport and they deserve some credit, too.”
Davis even went a step further, saying White didn’t deserve fourth place in the halfpipe.
“Well, fourth was a gift, first of all,” said Davis, who had two crashes and finished 10th.

Some critics may rise up and say they saw this coming. White has been criticized for turning too corporate, too selfish, and simply getting too good. Did somewhere along the line White become the Tiger Woods of snowboarding, a once dominating figure that other snowboarders suddenly feared no longer?

But give White tons of credit. He was snowboarding and carried the iconic sport a long way on his shoulders and flowing red hair.

In White's previous two Olympics – Torino in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010 – he was invincible. He laid down his winning run to open the finals, then used his second run as somewhat of a victory lap because no one else could touch him.

But it’s clear right now that his fear factor has eroded and everyone is eager for the new day in snowboarding that began in earnest Tuesday night in Sochi.

To his credit, snowboarding’s brightest light didn’t make excuses afterward. White and most other competitors had been complaining about the halfpipe’s condition in training runs – the walls were too vertical, and the flat bottom was so bumpy that riders said it resembled a mogul run.

White was among the many riders who were unable to practice their full Olympic runs and full complement of tricks in training, including one that was shortened by more than an hour Monday evening because of poor conditions in the pipe.

The conditions were better for Tuesday’s halfpipe competition and White didn’t fall back on the less-than-perfect conditions as an excuse.

“I’m disappointed," White told Associated Press afterward. “I hate the fact that I nailed it in practice, but it happens. It’s hard to be consistent.”

And White uncharacteristically was far from consistent in the Sochi Olympics. He vows it won’t be his exit from the sport he loves.

“I don’t really think tonight makes or breaks my career,” White said. “I’ve been snowboarding for so long and I love it, and it’s given me so much. I’m happy to take this for what it is.”

And what is it, and what does it really mean? It means Shaun White may no longer be king of the hill.

Long live the King.

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