For the first time since 2002, someone not named Shaun White has taken gold in the men's halfpipe in Olympic snowboarding.
Switzerland's Iouri Podladtchikov, who was born in Russia, won gold after a thrilling 94.75 in his final run, while teenagers Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka brought home silver and bronze for Japan, respectively.
Iouri Podladtchikov gold, Ayumu Hirano silver, Taku Hiraoka bronze. No American medals for first time ever.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 11, 2014
White, who was looking to make history by becoming the first American man to win Olympic gold in the same event in three straight Winter Games, fell to fourth place.
It seemed as though the 27-year-old was well on his way to a three-peat after skipping the semifinals with a top score of 95.75 during qualifying, but he fell twice during his first run of the finals, while his second came up just short of pushing him to the podium.
Here's a look at the final results, as well as an updated medal tracker:
|1 (Gold)||Iouri Podladtchikov||Switzerland||94.75|
|2 (Silver)||Ayumu Hirano||Japan||93.50|
|3 (Bronze)||Taku Hiraoka||Japan||92.25|
Entering Sochi, White had his sights set on doubling his career Olympic medal total after qualifying for both halfpipe and the inaugural slopestyle event. But after a couple of nasty falls, including one during slopestyle qualifying at Mammoth Lakes, he decided to drop out of the latter.
“After much deliberation with my team, I have made the decision to focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA,” he said in a statement (h/t Paul D. Bowker of TeamUSA.org).
During qualification—which came just one day after American Danny Davis told Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan the halfpipe in Sochi was "garbage"—there were several crashes, opening the door for White to comfortably win his second heat.
Davis and Hiraoka joined him in the finals, while Hirano, Christian Haller and David Habluetzel advanced out of the other heat. Podladtchikov, who eventually won gold, had to advance through the semifinals after barely making it out of qualification because of a fall on his first run.
After White's tremendous first run, he went straight to celebrate with his fans, via US Olympic Team on Twitter:
According to USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones, he greeted two Make-A-Wish fans, who were sent to Sochi to see the talented snowboarder.
White continued to pay homage to his fans, linking to this video on his Twitter feed shortly before participating in the final round:
But while spirits were high after qualification, the finals wouldn't go the American's way. White—as did Davis and Gregory Bretz—fell twice on his first run, including a nasty looking drop onto the lip.
And then to make matters even more difficult, Podladtchikov jumped to the top of the standings with an absolutely amazing run on his final chance. NBC's Skyler Wilder talked about the performance:
Fifteen-year-old Hirano followed that up with a brilliant 93.50, while Hiraoka notched a 92.25, making the podium an extra-tall mountain to climb.
After Davis fell on his second attempt during what looked like a medal run, and Bretz also went down, White stepped up in what was the final run of the competition.
He brought out the big stuff but was just a little too sloppy to earn him a medal. NBC's Shawn Smith summed it up:
Shaun White's final run isn't clean enough.... He finishes in 4th. Off the podium completely.— Shawn Smith (@theshawnsmith) February 11, 2014
It's an unfortunate ending for White, who has suffered through a roller coaster of moments in the last month. But as he told Rachel Axon of USA Today, this likely won't be his Olympic swan song:
I'm feeling great. It's been funny because there's been a lot of rumors going around that I'm going to be done or something after this. (Coach) Bud (Keene) and I are very excited about Korea and the next Olympics, so I'm not really going anywhere.
Even if White is out for South Korea, the future of snowboarding is clearly in incredibly talented hands.