Shaun White lets his Olympic half-pipe three-in-row slip away
American finishes outside the medals as Swiss ‘I-Pod’ takes shock gold
Shaun White of the US crashes during the men’s snowboard halfpipe final event at the Winter Olympics, in Rosa Khutor. Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Shaun White punched the air and slapped on his best grin but nobody was buying it. The thousands gathered at the Rosa Khotur half-pipe stadium didn’t know for sure yet but it was pretty obvious that he hadn’t done enough to take his third Olympic gold to go with the ones he won in Turin and Vancouver. All that was left was to see whether he’d snuck his way to a medal of any colour.
The scoreboard at the half-pipe is the watched kettle of these games. For an event that takes so little time – top of the hill to bottom rarely lasts more than 30 seconds – the judges’ scores come through as if delivered by carrier pigeons. All the while, the TV camera remains fixed on the waiting boarder. White mugged and posed, knowing it wouldn’t cut any ice with the judges but hoping it wouldn’t do any harm.
Eventually, the score came. White (USA) 90.25. Enough for fourth place only, stuck behind Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov (gold) and the Japanese pair of Ayumu Hirano (silver) and Taku Hiraoka (bronze). Just like that, his quest for three-in-a-row shot to pieces. The Flying Tomato canned.
“It’s tough,” he said later. “I really wanted to win tonight but it wasn’t my night and I just couldn’t land what I needed. I’m going to go and see my family and try to do whatever people do in this situation.
“There was a bit of expectation and pressure but I do that to myself anyway. I just need to go away and think about what happened.”
Whatever White did here was going to be a story but no one predicted a finish outside the medals. He is easily the biggest name in snowboarding, the richest, most famous Winter Olympian in the world. He has long since outgrown the sport, yet the assumption still held that he would be able to pull out a performance and keep his medal streak alive.
These have been a difficult Olympics for him. First he pulled out of the slopestyle event saying he didn’t think the course was safe enough. That led to taunts from other riders who accused him of not so much being afraid of getting hurt as being afraid of losing. Canadian rider Sebastien Toutant went straight to Twitter to nail him: “Mr. White... It’s easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win.”
White shrugged it off though with his qualifying run yesterday, posting the top score and ensuring that he would go last in the final. But he made a huge error on his first run, landing on his backside early on and catching the top of the ridge on the way down closer to the end. It meant that he had only one shot at redemption later on.
In the meantime, Swiss rider Podladtchikov, put in the run of his life. Podladtchikov – known to all and sundry as I-Pod – was born in Russia and moved to Switzerland when he was eight. His run here was spectacular, and with every trick roared on by the home crowd, he posted a 94.50. It was more than enough to secure him the gold.
“I’m almost fainting,” said Podladtchikov afterwards. “I’m almost unconscious. I feel like this is not real, I feel this is not happen. I haven’t even seen the gold medal yet. It has worked out exactly like I planned it. In this run, it felt like it was all meant to be. It was really weird. I was throwing down my hardest tricks with ease.”
The biggest trick was one he invented and called the Yolo: two flips while spinning four revolutions in the air. It is a trick only he and White have been able to pull off. So when White went straight over to congratulate him afterwards, there was fellow feeling between them. “Everyone is asking me what he said,” laughed Podladtchikov. “What about what I said to him? No, I’m kidding. He said, ‘Congrats’. And I think he was happy for me. For some other guys, I don’t want them to win but for me and Shaun, we like to see each other win because we are trying different things, difficult things.
“The first thing I asked him was would he celebrate with me and he said, ‘Yeah man.’ I don’t know where the party is at yet.”
As for White, the future is all anyone wants to know about now. His business, his brand, his band (new album out in a few weeks) are all in the mix. Where he goes from here will keep the snowboarding world transfixed.