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Scared? Shaun White deserves better

(SportsNetwork.com) - Only Shaun White knows if fear is the main reason he pulled out of the Olympic slopestyle competition.

Max Parrot doesn't know. Neither does Sebastien Toutant.

Still, the Canadian teammates chose to criticize White's decision with tweets they quickly deleted, but not before making the wrong kind of headlines on the eve of the Sochi Games.

White hurt his wrist during a training run Tuesday on a course that has drawn criticism as being potentially dangerous. He cited his wish to focus on the halfpipe event and the risk that an injury on the slopestyle course might keep him from competing for his third straight Olympic gold medal. (Norway's Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone during a slopestyle run on Monday.)

After White announced his decision to withdraw, Parrot said he thought the American snowboarding star was "scared" to compete and "knows he won't be able to win the slopes."

"It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win," Toutant wrote.

Parrot offered an apology for his comments, saying he didn't mean to offend anyone.

What he should have said was that White deserves better.

Shaun White is snowboarding's Greatest of All-Time -- the Wayne Gretzky of his sport. There is no disputing this.

A more apt comparison might be to equate his success to that of Tony Hawk, the skateboarding icon who pushed boundaries with his tricks and became the face of a growing alternative sport, pushing it into the mainstream.

There are few modern athletes whose talents and likenesses have done more for their sport, bringing the type of money and recognition that can benefit and be enjoyed by other competitors.

It's the type of trickle-down prosperity golfers have enjoyed in the Tiger Woods era.

The year before Woods won his first major at the 1997 Masters, nine players made more than $1 million on the PGA Tour. Last year, 82 golfers hit seven figures. And if you think that's a coincidence, I've got a 1-iron I'd like to sell you.

Still, a small number of golfers have publicly criticized Woods with little regard to what he means to their sport and livelihood. Taking shots for the well-publicized scandals in Woods' personal life is one thing. Provoking him in competition? That's poking the bear.

In 2006, after Stephen Ames made an ill-timed joke about Woods' game, he drew the world No. 1 in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship and suffered the worst loss in that tournament's history -- 9 and 8.

That means Woods was nine holes up with eight to play. The match was over after 10.

Asked if Ames' comments motivated him, Woods had a simple response: "9 and 8."

A year later, Rory Sabbatini accepted an invitation to play in Woods' Target World Challenge -- worth a guaranteed $170,000 paycheck -- and withdrew before the final round, citing shin splints. He was in last place at the time and the move was widely seen as disrespectful to Woods.

"He's messing with the wrong guy," said Fred Couples.

Those are words Parrot and Toutant might want to heed. It's not that there's evidence White is vindictive. But there's also little evidence suggesting he is soft.

While Parrot and Toutant moved directly into the slopestyle final with good runs in their heats on Thursday, White was setting his sights on the halfpipe, where he is known to be a boundary-pushing virtuoso.

And certainly not a softie.

Before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, White smacked his jaw on the ledge of the superpipe during a practice run at the Winter X Games with so much force that his helmet popped off. He got up, dusted himself off and made another run.

A month later White won his second straight Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe with a trick -- the Double McTwist 1260 -- that was equal parts dangerous and awe-inspiring.

Still, he pushed, and his new must-see aerial trick is bigger, wilder and even more dangerous. White debuted the frontside double-cork 1440 in December in a video posted online by one of his sponsors.

I read that it's similar to the Double McTwist 1260, but with another half twist added. At full speed, I can't tell for sure.

What I do know is it's not the trick of a coward.