As Shaun White inches closer to another Olympic gold medal in men's halfpipe, the world is looking to Iouri Podladtchikov to give him a run for his money. While I-Pod, as he’s nicknamed, is not among the handful of riders who have beaten White in the last 10 years, he's the only one to have notably influenced White's trick selection. The Cab double cork 1440 that has quickly become White's clutch trick in these last few months is actually the fruit of Podladtchikov's labor. For three years, I-Pod toiled over that trick, tossing his body into airbags and nearly throwing in the towel on the whole endeavor, but at last year's X Games Tignes, he stunned the crowd and himself when he landed the first-ever YOLO flip, as he named it on the spot.
Months later, White perfected the move and one-upped it with a matching regular frontside double cork 1440. While most riders would be frustrated by this mimicry and one-upmanship, Podladtchikov appears flattered. "Being in a position where I gave Shaun the idea of what comes next? I can't really find words for how precious that is to me," he told FOX News. "It's a very huge form of respect by him."
In a sea of spite generally aimed at White and his antics—namely, his winning-is-everything attitude and his decision to last-minute pull out of the men’s slopestyle event in Sochi—Podladtchikov respects and almost idolizes him. "Everybody else is against Shaun," I-Pod told Yahoo. "Everybody is jealous. He's got all the money. He's got everything that everyone could wish for."
So while I-Pod may prove to be White's biggest threat come Tuesday evening in Sochi, he might also be his biggest fan, feeling a kinship toward White that most other riders don't.
Born in Russia and on the move from the age of 3, Podladtchikov is no stranger to alienation, living in Sweden and the Netherlands as a young child before settling in Switzerland with his family at age 9. The youngest in a family of scholars—his parents are Moscow State University-educated mathematicians—this Olympic athlete is the black sheep in his clan; an Olympic career path isn't a highly respected one.
"They never supported snowboarding,” Podladtchikov said of his parents to Yahoo Sports. “Even today, if you get them a little bit drunk so they get out of their comfort, in-front-of-the-camera zone, they would tell you the truth. They think you should work your way through your head."
Podladtchikov's first Olympic appearance, in Torino, Italy, as a member of the Russian Olympic team, was also one of isolation. "Oh my God, it was horrible; I almost had a nervous breakdown", he’s said, recounting his pre-contest knee injury, unsupportive Russian coaches, and the doctors who berated him. A year later, in 2007, a headstrong I-Pod got his official Swiss citizenship and new Olympic affiliation; he’s never looked back.
The same can't be said for Russia.
As the Sochi Olympics neared and Podladtchikov's star continued to rise, the Russian Olympic Committee tried bringing I-Pod back into the fold. Podladtchikov demurred. "They had their chance and it's too bad, they blew it," he says of the situation. Besides, for him, snowboarding was never a Russian thing. "My snowboarding evolved around places and people that are in Switzerland," he explains.
So Tuesday night as the lights shine down on the pipe at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Iouri Podladtchikov, riding in his motherland under an adopted flag, will be riding for himself, looking to impress the world with his newfound YOLO flip and walk away with a medal to boot.
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