Shaun White opts out of last Olympic qualifier after COVID, still looks good to make team

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MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN, Calif. — Shaun White arrived at Mammoth Mountain hoping to lock in a spot on his fifth Olympic team.

The snowboarding superstar left it with his ankle hurting, a coach said, and work still left to do.

White put together a solid run during qualifying at the U.S. Grand Prix on Saturday night but aggravated a lingering ankle issue in the process, and he opted not to participate in the finals, U.S. head coach Mike Jankowski said.

A person familiar with White’s decision told The Associated Press that White’s ankle was not an issue, and it was COVID-19 symptoms that led him to call it a night. White’s withdrawal came after he experienced lingering COVID-19 symptoms, including fatigue and shortness of breath.

The person familiar with White’s decision said it does not impact White’s plans to compete in Beijing next month. The person requested anonymity because White has not publicly disclosed the reason for his withdrawal.

It led to the strange site of a portion of the 2022 U.S. Olympic snowboarding and freestyle team being announced later Saturday night without the 35-year-old who has redefined the sport.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

“If you’re off a bit and you’re not feeling your ‘A’ game, at this level, at night in the icy white, it’s risky as you know so he decided to take a break,” Jankowski said.

The setback was the latest in a series of them for White since he returned to the sport following a three-year sabbatical after his dramatic final-run triumph in Korea in 2018.

He finished eighth and seventh in separate events last month and said last week that he contracted COVID-19 in late December, describing his symptoms as a serious cold.

White arrived in California this week as the third-ranked American in a discipline that’s become dominated by the Japanese (Olympic favorite Ayumu Hirano and Ruka Hirano went one-two in Saturday’s final).

White stressed the importance of wanting to generate some momentum heading to China, Now he finds himself in fourth behind a group led by 2014 Olympian Taylor Gold, though White is still likely in good position provided he’s healthy. The team does not have to be finalized until Jan. 21.

“(White) just wants to train and keep working hard and keep getting better,” Jankowski said. “He’s hoping the spot where he’s at now holds solid and that he’s able to get the nomination to the team.”

While White’s status is still unclear, six more snowboarders or freeskiers clinched Olympic spots at Mammoth in the last opportunity to do so objectively. The rest of the team will be filled out by coaches’ picks.

The most prominent qualifier Saturday was two-time Olympic ski halfpipe gold medalist David Wise, who finished second behind New Zealand’s Nico Porteous in Mammoth.

Wise, 31, landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to cap his first of two runs for 95.25 points. He joined the previously qualified Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck on the men’s ski halfpipe team.

Wise was likely ticketed for an Olympic spot regardless of his result in Mammoth. U.S. coaches can add a fourth man to the team via their discretion. That spot could now go to Birk Irving, who was third at both X Games and the world championships last season, and then fourth on Saturday.

In women’s ski halfpipe, China’s Eileen Gu remained undefeated this season with her fifth win, recording the two highest scores (94.75 and 97.50). Gu, an 18-year-old born in San Francisco to an American father and Chinese mother, could sweep the three freeski golds in Beijing — pipe, slopestyle and the new Olympic event of big air.

Brita Sigourney, the bronze medalist in 2018, finished third and clinched a spot on the Olympic team. The 17-year-old Hanna Faulhaber previously qualified. Coaches can add up to two more women to the team.

PyeongChang Olympians Hailey Langland and Chris Corning earned berths in slopestyle and big air, joining defending slopestyle gold medalists Jamie Anderson and Red Gerard, who previously qualified and then won at Mammoth. Dusty Henricksen also previously made the men’s team.

On Sunday, Alex Hall and Maggie Voisin clinched spots in ski slopestyle and big air. Hall swiped a spot from two-time Olympic medalist Nick Goepper on the last run of the competition, but Goepper is likely to be named to the team with a discretionary pick.

No Americans were in Saturday’s women’s halfpipe final. The 2018 gold medalist Chloe Kim and fellow Olympic medal contender Maddie Mastro previously qualified for Beijing. Two more women can be named.

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