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Sochi Crews Race to Fix Halfpipe Before White Goes for Gold

Image: TOPSHOTS-OLY-2014-SNOWBOARD-HALFPIPE-MEN-TRAINING

Volunteers check the condition of the halfpipe before a training session at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. FRANCK FIFE / AFP - Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia — Crews at the snowboard halfpipe battled warm weather and raced to smooth and harden the course on Monday, one day before a marquee event at the Sochi Olympics — American Shaun White’s bid for a third straight gold medal.

A morning training run for snowboarders was delayed till evening while the crews worked. For several days, Olympic snowboarders, including White himself, have raised complaints about the pipe, including that it was uneven and grainy with loose snow.

White, after training Monday night, called the course disappointing and said it was soft at the bottom, between the 22-foot walls that he and his snowboarding compatriots scale for their acrobatic twists and flips.

“It's just not up to par,” he said. “I don't think it’s dangerous. It’s definitely just frustrating.”

He added: “You don't know where the bumps are going to be, and the hard part is getting from one wall to the other.”

The high temperature in the district of Krasnaya Polyana, which is hosting the halfpipe venue, was 58 degrees on Monday. Rain or snow is expected for Tuesday — good news in either case. Rain would pack the snow, and new snow would mean it’s cold enough to make the existing snow harder.

“They're doing everything they can,” said Mark Sullivan, a snowboard analyst and the founder of Snowboard magazine. “The main challenge is the warm weather and they can’t change that.”

White, one of the most recognizable faces of the American contingent in Sochi, won gold on the halfpipe at the Torino Olympics in 2006 and in Vancouver four years ago. White pulled out of another event, the slopestyle, to focus on defending his halfpipe title.

Other American snowboarders have made no secret of their distaste for the pipe in Sochi.

“It's pretty bumpy in there,” American snowboarder Danny Davis after the evening training run. "It's a little better than last night. But what I’m told is they can put a bunch of chemicals in there and firm that thing up and make it smooth for tomorrow.”

“It's a bummer to show up to an event such as the Olympics and not have the quality of halfpipe to match the quality of riders,” he said. “I mean, anybody who watched practice tonight could see that people are still bouncing around.”

Davis said there would be no requests to postpone the medal event, and that at least all the snowboarders would face the same pipe.

“We’ll rip it,” he said. “We’ve come here to ride. We’ll have fun no matter what.”

Image: Snow Boarding
Shaun White trains for snowboard halfpipe at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Sunday. JENS BUETTNER / EPA