KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- The scene could not have been more perfectly set for Shaun White to once again leave the Olympics as the Great American Halfpipe Hero. The last rider to drop during Tuesday night's final, White was the U.S. team's only remaining hope for a medal. Taylor Gold fell in his semifinal runs and failed to make the final. Danny Davis and Greg Bretz fell on both of their finals runs and White crashed twice in his first run of finals. It had been 16 years since a non-American rider won the Olympics and eight since that rider was not named Shaun White.
The Olympic reputation of the U.S. halfpipe team was riding on White's final run. It's the kind of moment in which he thrives, the type that turns regular contest runs into the stuff of last-night talk show fodder and Oprah's favorite things.
But in the end, it was Iouri Podladtchikov of Switzerland who provided the contest with its storybook ending. "We're in Russia. I wanted this. I worked for this," said Podladtchikov, who was born in Moscow, raised in Davos and competed for Russia at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. "I knew I needed to pull out all my tricks. When I landed the backside double [cork], I was like, 'You're not going to fall on the YOLO flip. It's not going to happen. It's all there for you.' That YOLO flip felt so good."
The "YOLO," or switch frontside double cork 1440, is a trick Podladtchikov invented and first landed in competition at X Games Tignes last March. He hadn't landed it since, leading some folks in the snowboard industry to jokingly say YOLO must stand for "You Only Land Once." Meanwhile White has not only learned the trick, he learned how to do it both ways -- switch and regular. Podladtchikov landing the YOLO in the clutch final run of the halfpipe finals effectively meant that in order to win, White would have to throw and land one, too.
In the end, White ended up throwing the same run twice. It was not the run he planned to throw to win the Olympics. It didn't include back-to-back double cork 14s or a triple cork, but he figured that if he landed it big and clean, it would be enough to win. "And I came here to win," White said.
But he landed low on his first hit, wobbled the landing on his YOLO flip and buckled on his final hit. The whole run fell flat and looked decisively un-Shaun-White-like. Even when he threw his arms up in celebration, it was clear even White didn't believe he'd done enough to win.
"Wow. Shaun just didn't win the Olympics," teammate Danny Davis said while waiting for White's score to post. "I wonder what they'll give him."
Fourth place. It's a spot White's never been in before. He had never not won an Olympics in which he competed and the last time he finished fourth in a major halfpipe competition was at the 2005 X Games. On the flip side, Podladtchikov had never medaled at the Olympics and despite his best efforts, has never won the X Games.