SOCHI, Russia — Even in the wildest, proudest moment, in the land of his birthplace, the fast-racing mind of Iouri Podladtchikov darted around and landed in an unexpected place.
He wondered about snowboarding icon Shaun White. How would the face of the sport handle a devastating loss at the Olympics?
“I’ve never seen him like this,” Podladtchikov said. “I wondered what he would be like.”
Not only was it a loss for White, the two-time defending Olympic halfpipe champion failed to make the podium, finishing fourth. The charismatic Podladtchkov, neatly known as I-Pod, won gold Tuesday for Switzerland but there was an extra twist because he was born in Russia and spent his early years here.
Japanese teammates Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka went two-three, giving Rosa Khutor Extreme Park a changing-of-the-guard-type feel because the silver medalist is only 15 years old.
White came to Sochi hoping for two gold medals and to be the first U.S. male to win the same event at three straight Olympics. But he leaves empty-handed, words you rarely see associated with his storied career.
“I don’t really think tonight makes or breaks my career,” said White, who withdrew from the earlier slopestyle contest. “I’ve been snowboarding for so long and I love it and it’s given me so much. I’m happy to take this for what it is.
“I tried to win. I went for big tricks that only Iouri and myself are doing. It just wasn’t my night, which is really tough to say. I’m OK with it.”
American teammate Danny Davis thought that fourth might have been an overly kind assessment of White’s night. White spilled twice in the first run and had issues with his landings on the second, preventing him from pulling out his best tricks.
“Fourth was a gift,” Davis said. “First of all, it’s good for snowboarding. Now everybody knows there are other good riders in the world.”
They just weren’t from the United States this night.
“Oh no, America, we didn’t do our country proud,” Davis said, smiling. “I hate not landing two runs.”
Davis and U.S. teammate Greg Bretz finished 10th and 12th, respectively. White was the only U.S. rider to complete a run — his second — without spilling. It was the first time the United States failed to win a medal in the halfpipe since the sport was included in the Olympics in 1998.
The Americans had complained about the conditions in training the last few days and had plenty of company from other riders suggesting a postponement. But a crew was spirited in to fix the halfpipe and coaches were saying that conditions were even improving by early afternoon.
But there were plenty of crashes and spills. In the second run, Podladtchikov followed five other riders who were unable to complete it cleanly. He joked that he blacked out and couldn’t remember the specifics of that second magical run, which earned him 94.75 points. But he recounted it — five tricks, most notably his own creation, The Yolo (You Only Live Once), which he hit but White did not.
It features two flips (head-over-heels) and two more turns, of 360 degrees each. It was his baby, but he admitted feeling a little put out when White started doing it too.
“When I saw videos of Shaun doing it really well, I got kind of bummed,” he said. “That’s my trick and he’s already doing it better than me.”
Said White: “I had a game plan. I had a specific run I wanted to land. I didn’t get to put that down. It was one of the most frustrating things for me. If I land my run, and I’m beat, I’m OK with that. But I definitely didn’t get that chance tonight.”
An exuberant Podladtchikov hugged White and had a question for him after it was over. The torch was passed and the Olympians and competitors turned right back into dudes.
“He was happy for me,” Podladtchikov said. “The first question I asked him was: ‘Will you celebrate with me?’ He was, like, ‘Yeah, man.’
“Then the conversation ended. Someone pulled me away and I didn’t get to the ‘Where’s-the-party-at’ question.”