ROSA KHUTOR, Russia — Iouri “I-Pod” Podladtchikov nailed the run of a lifetime to win the halfpipe gold for Switzerland at the Sochi Games on Tuesday and bring a stunning end to Shaun White’s eight-year reign as Olympic champion.
One of the only riders who can match American White in the complexity of his tricks, the Russian-born boarder put together an electrifying display under the lights at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park to earn 94.75 points.
That proved enough to see off a pair of daredevil Japanese teenagers as well as overwhelming favorite White’s challenge for a third successive gold medal.
Fifteen-year-old Ayumu Hirano took silver with 93.50 to become the youngest Olympic medallist on snow, pipping his 18-year-old compatriot Taku Hiraoka, who grabbed bronze with 92.25.
White, one of the biggest names in winter sports, finished fourth after remarkably dropping two tricks on his first run and only managing 90.25 after a couple of stumbles on his second.
After days of controversy about the quality of the pipe, which only intensified when the warm weather turned some of the packed snow to slush, a packed house was treated to just over an hour of dizzying acrobatics and thrilling drama.
There were plenty of falls and errors in the opening round as the riders battled a bobbly surface and White was among them.
Hirano, the youngest man in the field, somehow managed to cling on to his board and he was rewarded with the only score in the 90s, his 90.75 enough for the lead after all 12 riders had gone.
The crowd had turned up to see White crowned King of the Pipe for a third time but from the start things did not look quite right and a huge groan went around the Extreme Park when the 27-year-old almost snapped his board in half on the lip.
His score of 35.00 left him 11th after the first run, while Podladtchikov was third.
“I love you man, but you’re worrying me,” White had told the Swiss after qualifying and Podladtchikov showed just why with his second run.
The 25-year-old was heading up to the five-meter mark with his first jumps, hit a front-side five then a frontside 1080 before finishing with a double corkscrew with 1440 degrees of rotation.
His erstwhile compatriots in the crowd exploded and Podladtchikov, knowing he had performed something special, threw his board at a fence in delight before kneeling with his head in the snow.
There were only six riders to go and two of them fell. Hiraoka improved his score to take second place, only for Hirano to edge ahead of him again and that left only White.
Having scored 95.75 to lead qualifying, a winning score was within his grasp but again there a couple of errors and when he crossed the line yelling loudly, it was more in hope than expectation.
“I am disappointed,” White said. “I hate the fact that I nailed it in practice, but it happens. It’s hard to be consistent.”
“I definitely knew what run I wanted to put down,” White told a news conference.
“My dream scenario was I was going to land the first run and have the opportunity to maybe do something that’s never been seen before, with the triple cork or something like that.
“I tried to win. I went for it, I went for big tricks that only Iouri and myself are doing. I could have played it safe and tried to get a decent score, but I wanted to win.”
It was clear from the moment White arrived in Sochi that something was amiss with the normally laidback Californian.
When he pulled out of the slopestyle, he described the obstacle course as dangerous. Then he was highly critical of the halfpipe venue, saying the slushy snow had prevented him from practising his best tricks.
But he refused to blame the conditions on Tuesday, dismissing his performance as “one of those nights.”
“I had a tough time but everybody was riding the same conditions, everybody was in the same boat, that’s the only thing that you can look at,” he said.