Shaun White Aims for History at Sochi Games - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Shaun White Aims for History at Sochi Games

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(KXAS) -- Shaun White makes his Sochi debut under massive pressure Tuesday, less than a week after the snowboard star stirred up controversy for abandoning the slopestyle event to focus exclusively on the halfpipe.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist aims to defend his halfpipe title, which would put him in the history books. No other American man has notched three consecutive Olympic golds in an individual Olympic event. 

White will compete in the second of two ongoing qualifying heats and must place in the top three for a direct ticket to finals, or above tenth place in a field of 20 to advance to the semi-final round.

Greg Bretz, the only American competing in the first heat, secured a place in the semi-final competition. Japan's Ayumu Hirano moved directly to finals, along with Swiss snowboarders Christian Haller and David Habluetzel.

The competition kicked off under cloudy skies after a short delay as workers tried to smooth out bumps on the bottom of the halfpipe.  With temperatures Tuesday reaching nearly 40 degrees, organizers initially planned to scrap the qualifier before later reversing course. 

Even before warmer than expected temperatures turned some of the snow to slush, riders had been complaining about the very design of the halfpipe. Some said the walls were too vertical, others that the pipe was too narrow and that bumps on the bottom posed a danger to riders. 

In fact, as the qualifier got underway, parts of the course still appeared lumpy, with riders bouncing over sections near the edges of the pipe.

White told The Associated Press that the less-than-ideal conditions weren't anything he hadn't dealt with before. "It's just hard when it's the Olympics."

He enters the contest after nearly a week of criticism for his decision to forego the slopestyle event. Some fellow snowboarders took to Twitter to slam his decision, calling him a coward and accusing him of leaving the contest because he knew he wouldn't win. American slopestyle snowboarder Kyle Mack, who would have been next in line for Sochi, tweeted his disappointment in Shaun's last-minute calculation. "Love how shaun drops out of the olympics. that could have been my spot."

Still, White told the AP that he was "at peace" with his decision and thanked his fans in a video message for their unwavering support.

"You're the best," he said. "You support me through the decisions I make, the training regimen. You show up to the contests. You watch it on TV, and I feel it. ... I want to do my best, not only for myself but for you guys. Wish me luck and here we go."

In addition to White, snowboarders Danny Davis and Taylor Gold are also competing for the U.S. in the second qualification heat.

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