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DANGEROUS, AND A WHOLE LOT MORE on TNP 
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It's fast, furious and threatens to present the Sochi Winter Olympics with its first major headache as the hunt for snowboarding gold gets underway at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.

More than 240 athletes from 31 nations will launch themselves down the troubled track from today, but that number has already been reduced by one after Norway's gold medal favourite in slopestyle, Torstein Horgmo, crashed out in training and suffered a broken collarbone.

Fellow athletes complained that aspects of the course were too dangerous, held an emergency meeting and forced officials into a rapid tweak of the most challenging aspects of the run.

It has not been enough for American snowboarding star Shaun White, who hurt his wrist on Tuesday after falling on a course he had earlier described as "intimidating".

In a huge blow to the Games, the double Olympic champion admitted that the daunting slopestyle course where competitors tackle various forms of obstacles - rails, quarterpipes and jumps - was too dangerous and pulled out of the event.

The double halfpipe champion, one of the biggest drawcards of the Winter Games, said in a statement carried by American broadcaster NBC that he did not want to risk his chances of winning a third halfpipe gold medal.

"With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on," White said.

After securing the halfpipe titles in 2006 and 2010, White was looking to add the slopestyle gold to his tally as the event makes its Olympic debut in Sochi.

White, the 27-year-old X Games pioneer, has undergone a succession of knee and ankle injuries.

Snowboard gets underway today, a day before the official opening of the Games, with men and women competing in the qualifying rounds of slopestyle, one of two events added to snowboarding at Sochi.

SLOPESTYLE

In slopestyle, the athletes navigate their way through a series of rails and other features at the top of the course before moving on to three progressively bigger jumps.

Masters of the "triple cork" - three off-axis flips combined with three or four full spins - are the likes of White, along with Canadian trio, Mark McMorris, Maxence Parrot and Sebastien Toutant, as well as Staale Sandbech of Norway.

The leading women will be performing double flips, with medal favourites including Norway's Silje Norendal, Jamie Anderson of the United States and Dutchwoman Cheryl Maas.

The halfpipe will see White bidding for a third successive gold, but he faces stiff competition from 15-year-old Japanese sensation Ayumu Hirano.

WOMEN'S EVENT

On the women's side, reigning champion Torah Bright, who is also competing in slopestyle and snowboard cross, faces American duo Kelly Clark and Arielle Gold.

Snowboard cross, which features four riders racing down a winding mountain course, gives America's Lindsey Jacobellis, who famously fell to the ground with the gold at her mercy at the 2006 Turin Games, a final chance.

Several athletes have spoken out about the risks posed by the course.

"The big jumps are very big, especially for the girls," Russia's Sarka Pancochova said. "We are very little, we have 30kg difference to the guys. It's hard to get the speed you need." - AFP.


*The 2014 Winter Olympics will be shown LIVE on SingTel mio TV Ch 134-140 from tomorrow till Feb 23.

>Canadian slopestyle medal contender Sebastien Toutane:

Mr. White... It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win.

>Canadian snowboarder Maxence Parrot:

Shaun knows he won't be able to win the slopes, that's why he pulled out. He's scared!

"With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on."

- American snowboarding star Shaun White (above) WINTER
OLYMPICS