KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – There weren’t many original moves in his celebration, but Iouri Podladtchikov’s improvised mashup still seemed utterly unique. The Russian-born Swiss snowboarder put down the run of his life in the Olympic halfpipe Tuesday night, then spiked his board, did a belly flop in the snow, crowd-dived into a group of course workers and mugged for the cameras.
The man known as I-Pod to his fans and fellow riders — and now, to the world — had much more success with his mimicry than Shaun White did with his. White hoped to capture a third Olympic gold medal with his own spin on the Yolo, a trick Podladtchikov created. While White faltered, the originator showed how it was done.
Podladtchikov’s soaring, spinning thrill ride won the Olympic gold, leaving White without a slice of history and the Americans without a medal. The king of the halfpipe was deposed when he fell twice on his first run and bobbled two landings on his second. Podladtchikov won with a score of 94.75, with Japanese riders Ayumu Hirano (93.50) and Taku Hiraoka (92.25) taking silver and bronze.
White’s second-run score of 90.25 put him in fourth place. It marked the first time since halfpipe joined the Olympic program in 1998 that an American did not medal. It also derailed White’s attempt to become the first U.S. man to win three consecutive gold medals in an individual sport at the Winter Olympics.
“Everything came together exactly the way I planned it,” said Podladtchikov, who added that it felt “weird” to see his name atop the standings rather than White’s. “The run, it really felt like it was all meant to be.
“When I saw videos of Shaun doing [the Yolo] really well, I felt kind of bummed. I thought, ‘Damn. This is my trick, and he’s already doing it better than me.’ Today, I guess I was doing it a little bit better.”
White tried to downplay the loss. But he also said he needs to “take a little break” from snowboarding and refocus, and he announced he will go on tour with his band Bad Things.
“I don’t think tonight makes or breaks my career,” said White, who has been the face of his sport and a worldwide celebrity since his first Olympic gold in 2006. “I’m happy to take this for what it is and continue to ride and put my best foot forward.
“I had a game plan, I had a specific run I wanted to land, and I didn’t get to put it down. That’s one of the most frustrating things. If I get to land my run and I get beat, I’m OK with that, but it didn’t work out that way.”
There was no animosity between the two boarders, before or after Tuesday’s competition at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Each spoke glowingly of the other, and it was clear they are kindred spirits in their desire to push the boundaries of a sport that is constantly erasing them.
The Yolo includes two flips and four rotations. White, who practices in secrecy in a private halfpipe his sponsors built for him, picked up the trick and perfected it. He breezed through Tuesday’s qualifying round, topping the standings with a score of 95.75 and promising “a whole brand-new run” for the finals.
Athletes had criticized the slushy, bumpy condition of the Rosa Khutor halfpipe since training began, and crews worked overnight to help improve it. The finalists said it was much better Tuesday, but U.S. riders Danny Davis and Greg Bretz crashed out of both their runs. Davis finished 10th and Bretz 12th.
Podladtchikov, 25, scored an 86.50 on his first run and finished with his fists raised in the air. His second was more spectacular, as was his celebration. He said he had never been in a competition that White did not win.
It was a hard fall for the U.S., which had won eight of the 12 Olympic medals awarded in halfpipe before Tuesday. “We let America down,” Davis said. “Sorry, America.”
But Davis also thought that White’s loss would benefit the sport. Podladtchikov’s Twitter handle is @iouriamazing, and Davis expects the Olympic gold will show those skills to a much wider audience.
“Iouri shined tonight,” he said. “I think it’s great. More of the American public and the world now know that there are other snowboarders besides Shaun White.”