The 1998 Nagano Games marked the last time a non-American rider had topped the men’s Snowboarding Halfpipe podium, little-known Swiss rider Gian Simmen was the man responsible.
Iouri Podladtchikov, I-Pod for short, returned the gold to the land of multi-use pocket knives and movie villain bank accounts Tuesday night with a top score of 94.75. His efforts gave Switzerland its second gold (and overall) medal of these Sochi Olympics. This also is his second ever gold in competition after taking the top prize in the 2013 FIS World Championships in Quebec, Canada.
The Japanese duo of Ayumu Hirano (93.50) and Taku Hiraoka (92.25) weren't far behind but rounded out the podium with silver and bronze medals, leaving heavy favorite Shaun White (90.25) watching from the stands.
Here are five takeaways from I-Pod’s gold-medal performance.
Not From Russia With Love
There isn’t exactly such a thing as a Swiss last name. The country borrows from neighboring German, Italian and French heritages to fill the phone book.
So there is likely to be some confusion when the Swiss flag sits next to Podladtchikov’s name on TV.
That’s because he is Moscow-born, Zurich-raised.
There was a time when I-Pod flew under the Russian flag—specifically the 2006 Turin Games—but issues with the coaching and training staffs after a lackluster performance broke off that relationship. He represented Switzerland four years later in Vancouver.
In a pre-Sochi interview with Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Podladtchikov defined his complicated allegiances.
"I'm 100 percent Russian-blooded, in a physical way, but I get homesick from Switzerland. I can't stay away from home for longer than two to three weeks. My heart is there," he said.
When pushed to answer why he passed up the chance to be one of Russia’s faces of the games along with Evgeni Plushenko and Alex Ovechkin, he simply responded with, “They had their chance. And it's too bad they blew it."
I-Pod’s victory was vindication rather than home-court advantage.
Busted Pipe? No Problem
Six days in, the Sochi Games are nothing if not controversial. Despite snowboarding’s “chill” identity, the halfpipe would not be excluded from the hubbub.
White, Danny Davis and Hannah Teter—the United States’ biggest riders—had less than complementary remarks about the pipe conditions at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park going into the event.
White called the course “disappointing.”
Teter said it was causing a “junk show” during practice and it was “not what halfpipe is supposed to be like.”
Davis, in his best political tone, simply said the course was “just not as fun.”
Even the United States coach got in on the act.
And Podladtchikov? He didn’t seem phased.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported the Swiss’ reaction to the course:
''It's a really great pipe, you can go really, really high in this one but the fact that it's a little bit more narrow than usual, potentially makes the trick combinations a little bit more rough."
The complaints weren’t necessarily unfounded—both Davis and White had landing issues in their two finals runs—but Podladtchikov put together two error-free runs in capturing the gold.
In a sport that rewards the most successful pusher of physical boundaries, White rightfully ruled the halfpipe for a decade. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, he famously became the first rider to perform a Double McTwist 1260 in competition—dubbing it “The Tomahawk”.
Despite finishing fourth at the X Games Tignes last year, Podladtchikov put White and the rest of the snowboard world on notice when he landed the first ever Cab double cork 1440, leaving White in awe and playing catchup. For the layman, the X Games website defines it as “a switch double flip with four rotations. See for yourself. (It’s the fourth jump and comes 40 seconds in.)
Perhaps in a nod to the rapper Drake, the 25-year-old named his new trick the YOLO Flip. Draw your own conclusions.
Fast forward eleven months and I-Pod used his patented YOLO Flip to best the field, confusing some of the Olympics’ older viewers in the process.
Few athletes own their sport like White. He has accumulated back-to-back Olympic gold in halfpipe, eight X Games golds in superpipe, including four in a row from 2010-13 and five X Games golds in slopestyle.
Though some bemoan his privileged rise to stardom, riders have no choice but to respect White, and I-Pod is first in line to admit it, as quoted by Rachel Axon for USA Today.
“I have so much respect for that guy,” Podladtchikov said. “With having all that respect, always have and never talked [expletive] about him ever and hate all the people that do because you’re all morons. You don’t know what that guy has accomplished.”
With that came a healthy desire to best the best.
“I always wanted to beat him and I didn’t want to beat him falling. I wanted to do greater things, which is pretty to some people impossible goal."
Beat White he did, dethroning the sport’s most legendary figure.
Coincidentally, the two riders switched places in the final standings from four years ago in Vancouver. And White isn’t taking it lightly.
Not a Changing of the Guard, a Delay
It’s tempting to call Podladtchikov’s win a changing of the guard. White has been winning gold medals since 2003 and, at 27 years old, he’s surely a senior rider who will seriously question suiting up for Pyeongchang 2018.
I-Pod is no newbie, either. In fact, he’s just two years White’s junior.
The two guys on the podium to either side of Podladtchikov—Hirano (15 years old) and Hiraoka (18)—they represent the new guard. Neither was born when White received his first sponsorship from Burton.
But they’ll have to wait their turn for a chance at the top prize as I-Pod’s song gets its play.