Shaun White misses podium in men’s snowboard halfpipe final

Shaun White
No one saw it coming—least of all Shaun White. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in halfpipe not only failed to defend his title Tuesday, but also was shut out of the podium entirely. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

When it came down to the last run of the last rider of the last event in men's halfpipe snowboarding in Sochi Tuesday night, the world's most recognizable rider set up to do what he does best. American Olympic hero Shaun White had suffered a tough go of his first run, falling not just once, but twice—and managing to hit the deck of the pipe in the process. He'd need to wow the judges with big, cleanly landed tricks heavy on the corkage in order to secure the medal trifecta he's had his heart set on.

The fumbles constituted bizarrely atypical behavior from the two-time Winter Games gold medalist, but generally he's able to pull inward when it counts, to block out the noise and the crowd and the scoreboard to lay down an impeccable run when it really matters.

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This time, however, White just didn't have it in him. Rattled, a sloppy (for him) second attempt left him with a 90.25—not enough to break into the top three and unseat either his friend Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI) or the two Japanese riders also settled there, Ayumu Hirano

and Taku Hiraoka.

The sense of loss was evident behind White's smile as he congratulated the medalists in the finish area; surely he was replaying every inch of the pipe in his mind, troubleshooting, possibly even wondering if removing himself from the men's slopestyle contest at the last minute to focus on halfpipe was worth the snide remarks and controversy. Tonight, he'll head back to the Olympic Village without the trophy that would have been the most precious of his career.

Iouri Podladtchikov
The method was unleashed like crazy during the final. Iouri Podladtchikov goes huge. Photo by Chris Wellhausen/TransWorld Snowboarding

Conversely, Russian-born Swiss team rider Iouri Podladtchikov will be celebrating in the streets until he can no longer stay awake to hug and holler and toast his good fortune. The 25-year-old third-time Olympian hadn't automatically qualified for the final this morning and needed to get there through what was a very reassuring performance in the semis. When it came time to bring it in the second run of the final, I-Pod laid down his best set of the day, capping off a super-strong line with a stomped Cab double cork 1440, aka the YOLO flip—a trick he invented and debuted to the world at X Games Tignes 2013, and one that White had squeezed into his training before the Mammoth Mountain, California, Grand Prix qualifiers last month in order to remain competitive.

It was all he needed do to make some history of his own and take home his first Olympic medal. Even the pipe maintenance staff was overwhelmed, mobbing Podladtchikov at the bottom of the course and crushing him in a group hug.

Iouri Podladtchikov
I-Pod, center, shares his excitement over his gold medal as silver medalist Ayumu Hirano, left, and bronze medalist Taka Hiraona, right, look on. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Japanese riders seem to have perfected the art of the transition, getting massive air out of a messy pipe despite Hirano and Hiraoka's relatively light weight. (Hirano, for his part, is 5-foot, 2-inches tall, 15 years old, and weighs only 120 pounds.) Hirano lived up to prediction, throwing a truck-driver double cork 1080 in his first run and cleaning up his bail in run two. He was followed onto the podium by Hiraoka, who was never a favorite to medal but whose back-to-back 1080s helped get him bronze. (Incidentally, Hiraoka won the halfpipe test event in Sochi last spring.)

In an outcome that seemed fundamentally impossible, not one American man came close to the podium Tuesday; Danny Davis and Greg Bretz finished right at the bottom of the 12-man pack. Davis' performance was especially upsetting for Team USA; his rivalry with White had been a major storyline all season long, and the crowd was eager to see how the judges would score the unique, stylish runs that are his hallmark. Ultimately, Davis fell in both attempts, yet he'll head home to Truckee, California, knowing he still put fun first.

The women's field will take to the halfpipe Wednesday to show how they can handle the shifting conditions in Sochi. Qualifiers begin at 2 p.m. Sochi time, with semifinals and finals directly following. Check NBCOlympics.com for a viewer's guide.

MEN'S SNOWBOARD HALFPIPE FINAL RESULTS
1. Iouri Podladtchikov (SUI)
2. Ayumu Hirano (JPN)
3. Taku Hiraoka (JPN)
4. Shaun White (USA)
5. David Habluetzel (SUI)
6. Yiwei Zhang (CHN)
7. Wancheng Shi (CHN)
8. Tim-Kevin Ravnjak (SLO)
9. Kent Callister (AUS)
10. Danny Davis (USA)
11. Christian Haller (SUI)
12. Gregory Bretz (USA)

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