SOCHI, Russia – On Wednesday, American snowboarding star Shaun White announced he was dropping out of the slopestyle event at the Winter Olympics citing the potential for injury on a course deemed unfairly difficult by some. He'll concentrate on the halfpipe instead.
The decision came as somewhat of a surprise, although not nearly as unexpected as the reaction that followed via two competitors from a country historically known for anything but its trash talking.
Almost immediately after White announced his decision two Canadian snowboarders, Sebastien Toutant and Max Parrot, mocked him on Twitter. Both claimed White was really afraid of losing, not getting hurt.
"Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, that's why he pulled out. He's scared!" Parrot tweeted.
Parrot later took down his tweet and offered an apology. However, his opinion was clearly known.
A short while later, Toutant followed with this:
Mr. White... Its easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win...— Sebastien Toutant (@SebToots) February 5, 2014
Only White knows whether the accusation is true or not. The idea certainly carries some potential. White has built a multi-million dollar empire over being seemingly invincible in competition – mostly through his creative and boundary-pushing work in the halfpipe.
Losing, or more pointedly, losing in dramatic fashion via an ugly crash certainly wouldn't help his rep. And injury remains very possible, which could knock him out of his best event.
Then again, The Flying Tomato hasn't been particularly fearful of anything through the years, and any exposure at the Olympic level, even in defeat, is a positive. Slopestyle is a new event anyway; it's not like he is some overwhelming favorite.
Whatever. The story isn't White's motivations. It's that the Canadians, of all people, were the ones chirping at the champ.
For many years the Canadian attitude in Olympic competition was rather, well, Canadian – polite, conciliatory, nice.
There was a belief among Canadian Olympic officials that while these were generally positive trademarks, they might be adversely affecting the competitive success of the nation. In the 2006 Turin Games, Canada finished tied for fifth in total golds with seven.
So in the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Canada wanted a strong showing, it launched the "Own the Podium" campaign. It was an effort to bolster not just the confidence sometimes needed to win, but even a collective swagger that might lift everyone.
It worked. Canada doubled its gold count to 14, the most of any country.
Four years later, it's apparently being taken to another level. Two Canadians not just predicting victory but basically calling White an excuse maker and a coward?
[Slideshow: Shaun White at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi]
White can fight his own battles on this. Just seeing this kind of animosity in what many consider a generally laidback, congenial sport such as snowboarding is intriguing. It may drive interest. It certainly helps it gain credibility as more than just a show sport – one with incredible athletes, of course.
This is not an isolated incident, either. The Canadian snowboarders are downright cocky. Winning is expected.
"The Canadians – we are the guys to beat," Toutant told the Globe and Mail newspaper this week.
The Games don't officially open until Friday, yet it's clear the new day from Team Canada has extended past the glory days of Vancouver. Like the smack talk or not, that counts as a development here in Russia.
Of course, now they have to back it up … with the world watching.
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