The 2014 Sochi Olympics are just three weeks away, and that means a notable American athlete will be back in the spotlight.
Shaun White, the two-time defending gold medalist in the half-pipe, is looking to add more medals and a new event to his résumé – slopestyle, which will make its Olympic debut in Sochi.
As one of the more popular events at the Winter X Games in recent years, slopestyle has gained the attention of the International Olympic Committee, which approved the event last February. The competition involves doing a variety of jumps and rails on a downhill run, and both skiing and snowboarding will be slopestyle events.
“What’s fun about the Olympics is that there’s a new discipline,” White said on the “Today” show last summer. “It’s basically a series of jumps in one run and some rail features you slide on, and you make your way down and you basically do as many tricks as you can on those jumps. I do like to compete in both events, though. It’s fun.”
The 27-year-old, who shed his trademark wild red hair for a more clean-cut look in late 2012, has tough competition for the gold.
Canadian Mark McMorris enters the Sochi Games as the presumed favorite in the slopestyle. The 20-year-old won the Winter X Games slopestyle competition last January, while White finished fifth.
In December, McMorris and White competed in the Dew Tour iON Mountain Championships. White had the best qualifying score but had to pull out before the final due to an ankle injury. McMorris then won with higher scores than White’s qualifying mark.
Despite the ankle injury, White was able to compete at Copper Mountain in Colorado later in the month, but finished third behind Norwegians Staale Sandbech and Torstein Horgmo. McMorris didn’t compete in that event.
“This is the road to Sochi, not the road to Copper,” White’s coach, Bud Keane, said after the competition. “We’re keeping our eyes on the prize, and we have every intention of winning.”
White was on the verge of qualifying for the slopestyle event at last weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix in Breckenridge, Colo., the third of five Olympic qualifying events, but race officials decided to cancel the finals because of deteriorating snow conditions and dangerously high wind. Officials then opted not to use the qualifying runs either, so the event doesn’t count in qualifying standards.
Qualification for White and other U.S. snowboarders comes down to two more competitions, which will be held this week in Mammoth, Calif., to secure a spot on the Olympic team. Even though the San Diego native hasn’t secured his spot yet, he is in good position to qualify for his third Olympic Games.
The official team announcement will be made Jan. 19.
White has emerged as not only the face of such extreme sports but also a veteran presence at the events. Famed professional skateboarder Tony Hawk once served as White’s mentor, and like Hawk, White is expected to remain the idol of most aspiring snowboarders for quite some time.
If experience plays a major role at Sochi, White can expect another trip to the podium in Russia. White’s success goes back a dozen years, having earned a silver medal at the 2002 Winter X Games in Aspen, and he has never missed out on a medal in any Olympics or Winter X Games.
As for the half-pipe competition, White remains a frontrunner. He seeks his third consecutive gold medal after dominating at Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010.
“I'm really excited. It's just one of those things where everything around my life right now is focused on the Olympics,” White said.
“It's a really good feeling that it's coming up, and I think I'm prepared.”
An IBTimes staff reporter contributed to this report.