Shuffled up: Iouri Podladtchikov dethrones Shaun White in halfpipe
Shaun White entered Tuesday's halfpipe contest as the odds-on favorite for a third straight gold medal, which would have made him the first American male to win three straight gold medals.
But it was not to be. Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov pulled the upset, landing his "YOLO flip" - a double cork 1440 - in the process. It was a trick that White had set out to conquer after Podladtchikov first landed it.
Embedded video_content_type: I-Pod seals halfpipe gold by landing YOLO
White's first run was full of uncharacteristic mistakes, as he squatted out the landing of his third hit, then slammed the deck on his fifth hit.
After the first set of runs, Japan's Ayumu Hirano held onto the lead. Iouri Podladtchikov took over the lead on his second run, then waited anxiously as the rest of the field tried to top it.
Embedded video_content_type: Ayumu Hirano's silver medal halfpipe run
Hirano came back and laid down a second excellent run, boosting out of the halfpipe with incredible amplitude. The judges took their time deliberating but ultimately decided that I-Pod's run was just a tick better. The run bumped Hirano back into silver medal position though.
After Hirano, then it was White's turn.
Four years ago in Vancouver, White's second run was nothing more than a victory lap. The last rider to drop, he already had the win locked up when he decided to throw a new trick - a double McTwist 1260 - and up his score even more.
He wouldn't have that luxury this time around.
Embedded video_content_type: Shaun White misses out on halfpipe podium
Dropping in for a pressure-packed run, White was forced to reach deep into his bag of tricks. At the very least, he had to match Podladtchikov's biggest trick - the YOLO flip.
Shaking off his slam from about 30 minutes earlier, White laid down a full run but didn't execute the YOLO flip cleanly. That right there looked like enough to end his gold medal hopes, but then White had a second miscue further down the pipe, and by the time his run had wrapped up, even the most optimistic of fans had to wonder just how far down the rankings he'd end up.
The judges took their times once again, holding the balance of the podium in their hands. Their deliberation eventually concluded, and White finished 4th - off the podium and without a medal.
White knew that his run wasn't clean enough to contend for a medal.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Through the lens: Iouri Podladtchikov tops Shaun White in halfpipe
"I had a specific run I wanted to land and I didn't put it down," White said. "It's one of the most frustrating things for me. If I land my run and I'm beaten, I'm OK with that. I didn't get that chance tonight, and it happens."
White's American teammates in the final, Danny Davis and Greg Bretz, were both unable to put a full run down and finished well out of medal contention. Davis, in particular, had another one of his patented stylish, technical runs going but fell towards the bottom of the pipe on the same trick in both of his attempts. Had Davis landed that last trick in either of his runs, he certainly would have been in the mix for a podium spot.
It's the first time that the United States has ever failed to earn a medal in an Olympic halfpipe event for either men or women. Halfpipe debuted at the 1998 Games in Nagano.
Behind silver medalist Ayumu Hirano, another Japanese rider, Taku Hiraoka, earned the bronze medal and rounded out the podium.
Embedded video_content_type: Taku Hiraoka earns bronze in men's halfpipe
The victory had to provide a sense of validation for Podladtchikov. He had been playing catch-up to White after the Vancouver Games when White first unveiled the double McTwist 1260 - a trick that Podladtchikov eventually became the first to match. This time around it was Podladtchikov pioneering the double cork 1440 nearly one year ago, but it was only a matter of time after that until White learned the trick and caught back up. It appeared that Podladtchikov's edge was gone - especially after he struggled to land the trick two weeks ago at X Games.
But when it mattered most in Sochi, Podladtchikov was flawless with the trick and White wasn't. And that was the difference between leaving with gold and going home empty-handed.
"I saw videos of Shaun doing it really well," Podladtchikov said. "I got bummed. I said, 'Damn, that's my trick and he's doing it better than me. I guess I was doing it a little better tonight."
Halfpipe final results
1. Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI), 94.75
2. Ayumu Hirano (JPN), 93.50
3. Taku Hiraoka (JPN), 92.25
4. Shaun White (USA), 90.25
5. David Habluetzel (SUI), 88.50
6. Yiwei Zhang (CHN), 87.25
7. Wancheng Shi (CHN), 81.00
8. Tim-Kevin Ravnjak (SLO), 72.25
9. Kent Callister (AUS), 68.50
10. Danny Davis (USA), 53.00
11. Christian Haller (SUI), 51.50
12. Greg Bretz (USA), 26.50
Best of Sochi