Shaun White celebrates gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov after missing halfpipe podium in Sochi
Anything but predictable was the scene Tuesday night at the men’s snowboarding halfpipe final.
With all eyes on Shaun White to take the win in an attempt to become the first-ever American male to three-peat in any Olympic sport, White came up short of the podium entirely but showed great sportsmanship, immediately giving a hug to the victor and saying nothing but positive words regarding him.
“Congrats to Iouri [Podladtchikov]. I’ve ridden with that guy forever and he deserves a big win,” said White, with genuine affection for his competitor. “He’s so excited, so happy and I’m pumped for the guy. He is a good friend of mine. The first thing he said was, ‘you’d better celebrate with me,’ so I said alright and as much as it’s going to break my soul, I’m to go have a drink with him.”
White embraced I-Pod at the bottom of the pipe. (Photo: Getty Images)
Instead of White capping off the three-peat, it was the Russian-born Iouri Podladtchikov, aka I-Pod, that pulled together the run of his life and was in turn awarded the top score and the gold medal. I-Pod was raised in and is riding for Switzerland despite competing for Russia back in 2006.
NOTE: Rule 41, as outlined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC): A competitor who has represented one country in the Olympic Games…may participate in the Olympic Games to represent his new country provided that at least three years have passed since the competitor last represented his former country.
Just following the awarding of his medal, I-Pod was asked how it felt to stand atop the Olympic podium. His response, “it feels very shaky. I think I’m going to faint.”
I-Pod was elated following his victory. (Photo: Getty Images)
Stunned and amazed hardly captures the spirit of the 25-year-old snowboarder who had yet to completely soak in all that had happened that evening. With the order of the final event’s start list, I-Pod dropped in fourth in the order and therefore had to watch eight more snowboarders take to the pipe after him, with the strongest competitor, White, dropping in last.
I-Pod was asked if he had thought the win was essentially in the bag following the completion of his final run, which included a trick that he pioneered and named the YOLO (You Only Live Once) flip —a cab double cork 1440 – but knowing he would have to ultimately wait for White to ride, it did not seem that he was convinced that the win could be his.
“[White] is by far the most technical rider out here, and the most consistent. Thank you,” said I-Pod as if he was speaking to the halfpipe gods. “I got this one.”
I-Pod continued to speak to the unknown variable that is the judging factor within snowboarding. “Judging is so weird these days. When you are under-judged all your life, or over-judged… you are never sure. I landed the best run of my life, but I’m not sure I’m going to win.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Through the lens: Iouri Podladtchikov tops Shaun White in halfpipe
Beyond the highlights of White coming up short and I-Pod getting the gold, it's also worth noting that two medals will be going back to Japan for the first time in snowboarding.
Fifteen-year-old Ayumu Hirano - who is the youngest Winter Olympic medalist from Japan, as well as the youngest from the country to compete in a snow event by three years - lived up to the great expectations placed upon him and took home the silver medal, while his teammate Taku Hiraoka stood beside him with the bronze around his neck. This marked the first time since 1998 that two Japanese athletes shared a podium in a snow event.
Snowboarding has swept the Japanese culture, and although it has yet to surpass baseball, it is certainly going to make national news that these two heroes will be bringing home medals. Their accomplishments will also serve to reinforce the acceptance and interest in snowboarding in their country.
I-Pod’s victory capped the end of a crazy event to say the least.
Looking back at the experience and the emotions felt as he prepared to ride his final run, I-Pod noted the surreal experience it is to compete in the Olympic Games.
“The thing about the Olympics is that the people really ride with you. They are cheering and you know they are screaming for you; you can hear it up there,” said I-Pod, referring to the top of the halfpipe. “That’s the most amazing thing about it, you know that everybody is riding with you.”
Although he feels greatly welcomed and supported in Russia, I-Pod’s journey isn’t over until he returns back to Switzerland.
“I can’t even imagine coming home, oh my god. It’s going to be amazing.”
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