When Iouri Podladtchikov dethroned Shaun White to win gold in the halfpipe competition in Sochi on Tuesday, he immediately bear-hugged the snowboarding legend and said thanks.
After all, it was White’s dominance of the sport, where he had won the last two Olympic gold medals, that pushed the Russian-born snowboarder known as “iPod” to the best performance of his life.
“He goes bigger than everyone, he’s more technical than anyone, he always tries to be ahead of everyone else, and I think that alone is very impressive,’’ Podladtchikov said on TODAY Wednesday. “It just motivates me. He made me go out there and try new tricks and all this.”
IPod had half his mind on the afterparty and half on thanking White when the two hugged following the competition, where White finished out of medal contention in fourth place.
“It was like this, ‘Please come out with me, please come out with me,’’’ Podladtchikov said. “I was like saying, ‘I love you. Thank you.’ I was just really happy obviously that I landed the hardest run I’ve ever tried in my life.’’
White, 27, who said on TODAY Wednesday that Sochi may not be his last Olympics, had the highest score of anyone in the field during qualifying, but struggled in the finals, coming up short of clearing the wall at one point and nearly snapping his board. While there has been open resentment of White among other snowboarders for various reasons, Podladtchikov has none of that animosity, instead crediting him with driving the sport to new heights.
“I think with other riders, I don’t like to see a lot of people win because I want to win, but when Shaun is dropping into the halfpipe, it’s more like he always puts something new out there,’’ he said. “He’s always pushing the limits and that’s just exciting to watch. You want those kinds of people to win because they are pushing themselves more than anybody else.”
Podladtchikov, who was competing for Switzerland, became the first snowboarder besides White to win Olympic gold in the halfpipe. It still has not sunk in for him: “I would say no because I haven’t seen the medal yet,’’ he said. “I can hardly believe it unless I see it.”
He celebrated his victory late into the night in Sochi, although there were some complications. “It was kind of a mess because the barkeeper was more drunk than the people trying to order drinks,’’ he said. “It was a lot of work for some reason.”
Podladtchikov brought home the gold by nailing his signature move that he has dubbed the "YOLO" — as in, "you only live once." It involves two head-over-heels flips, two 360-degree turns and 1,440 degrees of spin.
"That’s why I called it YOLO because you look at it and see it’s pretty intense,'' he said. "And also just for the fun of it because a lot of snowboard tricks, grabs, for example, (like) stalefish or rocket air, those are quite funny names, and I figured why not name it (something) a little bit funny."
He flirted with disaster in the early rounds, nearly getting eliminated during qualifying when he fell.
"I was really surprised falling my first qualifying run, which was probably the hardest part of my day because one more run, and if you screw that one up, you’re out, you’re not even in finals,'' he said. "I was really nervous there. My game plan was a little bit different than that. From then on, I was building my game up pretty slowly, and it worked out."