Iouri 'iPod' Podladtchikov wins Olympic Halfpipe Gold
All Photos: Chris Wellhausen
Moments after Shaun White finished his second run Danny Davis summed it up as well as anyone could when he said, "Wow, Shaun just didn't win the Olympics." He didn't even have to wait for the score. None of us did. Shaun fell on his first run and after he squatted riding out of his Cab double cork 1440 and landed way down the transition on his alley-oop backside rodeo the only question was whether his second run would put him on the podium at all. With the judges highly valuing both clean runs and massive airs the mistakes in Shaun's run left him with a 90.25, only enough for fourth place.
"I was planning on putting in a great first run and sitting back and seeing what happened," Shaun said. I had a tough time with my first run and Iouri had an amazing run so I figured I would include some bigger spins that I didn't think I was going to include on my first run. But I didn't get to break out everything, which is really frustrating."
Shaun has always been one to perform better under pressure but tonight it was Switzerland's I-Pod who came through. I-Pod had just put down a legit first run with a double McTwist and scored 86.50. That put him in a good spot, so what to do on his second run? YOLO, right.
Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov's Olympic halfpipe gold medal run
"I knew if I wanted to go for it I had to pull out all my tricks," I Pod said. "It wasn't working for me the way I had planned. The plan ended up rolling into this, 'let's do it all.' I was actually having fun going for everything because I usually end up like 'Well, if I want to land the YOLO I'm not going to go for the back double. And here it was like, 'I landed the back double, you're not going to fall on your YOLO flip. It's all there for you.'" That YOLO flip, or Cab double cork 1440, was the first Iouri had stomped in a full run, and delivered him a gold medal.
It was also an impressive night 15-year-old Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano who was fast-tracked to finals after qualifying first in his heat and was going huge all day. Ayumu's small, lighter frame seemed to give him an advantage in this pipe even during practice on Sunday when many riders were struggling to make it across the flat-bottom and he was still getting decent air. Whatever the case, Ayumu killed it on both of his runs scoring a 90.75 on the first and a 93.50 on the second for a silver medal.
Ayumu Hirano's Olympic halfpipe silver medal run
The bronze medal went to Ayumu's countryman Taku Hiroka who put on a surprise performance. Taku hasn't placed well at the Dew Tour, Copper Grand Prix or X Games leading into the Games but tonight he boosted a huge backside 540 off his first hit that was as big as some riders were going on straight airs before putting together a barrage of 1080s and double corks.
The final standings mark the first time an American hasn't brought home a medal in pipe since the event's Olympic debut in 1998.
Taku Hiroka's Olympic halfpipe bronze medal run
While the judging seemed fairly straight-forward tonight the only loose-end was whether Ayumu deserved a higher score because he did six hits as opposed to I-Pod's five. It might be a small point of difference but as the longest competition pipe yet, there was room for riders to get a seventh hit in if they really wanted. In that context it seems like I-Pod’s five tricks scored considerably more for each hit than Ayumu's six. The judges use the Overall Scoring system however, meaning the rider's aren't judged per hit but on the impression left by the entire run.
As to why I-Pod didn't do another trick he said, "I didn't have the sixth hit, I just knew it." Either way, there's little doubt I-Pod should have won tonight.
How bad did you want Danny Davis to land his run? Switch method.
Perhaps a bigger upset than Shaun failing to podium was Danny Davis falling on both of his runs. Danny's had a long journey back to the Olympic spotlight after breaking his back in a drunken ATV accident just before the Vancouver Games and heading into Sochi he had positioned himself as a true medal contender. In January he gained attention after winning a Grand Prix at Mammoth during the US team qualifications. Shortly after he won the 2014 X Games with a run that included a creative and stylish backside 360 to switch method. Danny looked good on both of his finals runs tonight until he fell each time on his frontside double corks, just before his last hit.
US rider Greg Bretz also fell on both his runs.
Where does Shaun White go from here?
That's the big question. In recent interviews it feels like Shaun has been laying the groundwork for a life beyond boarding and as he spoke about tonight's loss he hinted at the same thing again.
"To be remembered in the sport, I don't think tonight really makes or breaks my career," he said. "I've been snowboarding for so long, I love it, it's given me so much. I'm happy to take this for what it is and move on and continue to ride. I'd always like to be remembered as more than just a snowboarder. I mean, I have so much more going on in my life and this is one big part of who I am but I don't think it's all of who I am."
Does that mean his reign in the pipe is over? Not necessarily. Shaun still has a few tricks that other riders would love to lock down and he would have been the sure winner tonight if got his second run clean. But it does seem like the beginning of the end.
As for the immediate future, Shaun his looking forward to hitting the road with his band, Bad Things. "I need a little break from snowboarding for a while," he said. "Hopefully to go play some music with my friends. Take a breather, refocus and then come back to it."
Olympic Halfpipe Results
Gold: Iouri 'iPod' Podladtchikov (SUI)
Silver: Ayumu Hirano (JPN)
Bronze: Taku Hiraoka (JPN)
4th: Shaun White (USA)
5th: David Habluetzel (SUI)
6th: Yiwei Zhang (CHN)
GOLD: Iouri ‘iPod’ Podladtchikov
SILVER: Ayumu Hirano
BRONZE: Taku Hiraoka
4th: Shaun White