Shaun White's Olympic Gamble Doesn't Pay Off
Shaun White has officially been dethroned.
The man who made snowboarding mainstream fell well short of his goal to become the first American man to win gold in three straight Olympics in the same event, finishing fourth today in the men's halfpipe. After a fantastic first qualifying run in which he scored a 95.75, White fell twice in his first medal run, scoring a 35.00. He followed that up with a better, but not totally clean, second run, scoring 90.25 -- two points from Japan's Taku Hiraoka, who took home the bronze, and well off the impressive 94.75 Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov posted in his final, gold-medal-winning run.
No doubt, the Flying Tomato brand remains intact, as does White's legacy in the sport that made him its face, its primary source of credibility and legitimacy. With an estimated net worth of $40 million, White needn't want for anything for the rest of his life. But it's also impossible to ignore the marketing opportunities lost in the Sochi snow. Two gold medals is great, but history is forever.
It was that thinking that caused him to bow out from the slopestyle, an event in its Olympic infancy whose treacherous track claimed many victims in practice runs and wasn't worth the distraction to White in his quest for his halfpipe hat trick. Aside from the jealous competitors mocking the man responsible for them being there in the first place, many analysts wondered what his withdrawal would do to his brand, mostly concluding that he and his trademark had much more to gain in the halfpipe. By faltering today, White sent the biggest signal to date that his days as Chairman of the Snowboard might be numbered.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)
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