Two-time Olympic snowboard defending champion Shaun White finished fourth in the halfpipe at the Sochi Games, as Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov and two Japanese teenagers took the medals.
Podladtchikov, 25, won the event with a score of 94.75 in his second run, jumping from third place. While Japan’s 15-year-old Ayumu Hirano improved his first round score to 93.5, it wasn’t enough to catch the Swiss athlete. Another Japanese boarder, Taku Hiraoka, 18, was third.
White, who had expressed concerns about the snow before the final, had a top score of 90.25 in his second attempt. He fell and only collected 35 points in his first try. The red-haired American -- nicknamed the “Flying Tomato” was the highest scorer qualifying.
“Shaun White didn’t win the Olympics: Wow,” White’s teammate Danny Davis said in an interview. “I’m surprised, man that guy always wins, he always lands. That shows you the conditions are tough. This pipe has been ridden since 2 p.m. -- we’re tired. We never do three contests in one day. Usually we would just come up for finals. The pipe is pretty beaten up since there’s been about 200 plus runs today.”
White didn’t wait around after his loss, saying he had to take a doping test. He was hugged by two or three fans who broke through the barrier to hug him.
“I’m planning to go out and play some music,” White said, referring to his band, Bad Things. “I have got a tour to look forward to.”
White came to Sochi planning to compete in the snowboard slopestyle event as well as the halfpipe. He dropped out of slopestyle to concentrate on tonight’s event, leaving teammate Sage Kotsenburg to win the U.S.’s first gold of the Games.
Slopestyle is a new event at these games. The course included three rail features near the top and three jumps that got progressively bigger, so the most dramatic jumps came in front of spectators at the finish area. Some athletes criticized the course as unsafe.
White cut his distinctive hair before these games, and was the oldest man in the final at 27. His popularity, starting before he won gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, makes him about $10 million in endorsement deals, according to Bob Dorfman, an executive vice president and creative director at San Francisco’s Baker Street Advertising.
The American gets backing from Burton Corp., Goodrich Corp., GoPro, Oakley Inc., Stride gum, Target Corp., UbiSoft Entertainment SA and Vail Resorts Inc.
Podladtchikov ended U.S. domination in the event. Americans had won eight of a possible 12 medals in this event. He’s the second Swiss snowboarder to win the title, after Gian Simmen took the medal in 1998, the first time the sport was in the Olympics. Americans have taken the event the other three times.
“I’m about to faint,” Podladtchikov said. “I’ve got a very bad feeling in my stomach.”
Podladtchikov competed for Russia at the 2006 Games in Torino, finishing 37th, and then switched to Switzerland, finishing fourth in Vancouver in 2010.
Hirano, at 15 years and 74 days, is Japan’s youngest Winter Games medalist ever, as well as the youngest in a snow event, beating the record of Austria’s Traudl Hecher, who was 16 and 145 days when she won bronze in the alpine skiing downhill in 1960.
Japan had never claimed a medal in a snowboard event and took silver and bronze today.