KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The Flying Tomato went splat. And there’s a new gold medalist in halfpipe snowboarding.
American Shaun White, the most dominant athlete in the sport’s short history, failed to win a gold medal for the first time after Iouri Podladtchikov unseated him with a score of 94.75. White finished in fourth place with 90.25. Japan's Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka won the silver and bronze with scores of 93.50 and 92.25.
"Tonight was just not my time," White said.
White, 27, was trying to become just the fourth athlete in Winter Olympics history to win three consecutive gold medals in an individual sport. Though he was the prohibitive favorite coming into the competition at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, his downfall came in the finals. He fell twice in his first run for a score of 35.00 and slipped twice in his second.
"Fourth was a gift, man," U.S. teammate Danny Davis said of White.
Davis finished 10th and Greg Bretz 12th as the United States failed to medal for the first time in the event.
"We let America down," Davis said. "Sorry, America."
Podladtchikov, who squeezed into the semifinals before qualifying for the finals, posted the winning score with his second run.
The day started as usual for White. In the qualifying round, he stomped a 95.25 in his first run, mixing his signature double-cork flips with amplitude the likes of which no other rider can reach. Such combinations had until Tuesday night rendered White peerless in snowboarding, a sport in which he moonlights amid a life of entrepreneurship, skateboarding and music. Spread thin among all of his interests, White has continued to dominate snowboarding even though it’s but a vocation. Whether his failure to win gold at the Sochi Games is a referendum on his inability to balance his business interests and burgeoning music career with snowboarding will soon cast a light onto what White’s priorities are as he edges closer to the twilight of his competitive-snowboarding career – and if another shot at a gold medal is in the offing.
"I will go and see my family and reflect," White said after the event. "I'm planning to go out and play some music. I have got a tour to look forward to [with his band]."
White's withdrawal earlier in the Olympics from the slopestyle competition annoyed those who felt as if he’d taken a spot out of another rider’s hands and pulled out of the competition because he was an underdog. White said he wanted to focus on halfpipe, and whether that was the truth matters not. White was beaten in the event that he had owned for nearly a decade, with losses only to Davis, Bretz, Kevin Pearce and Mason Agguire before Tuesday.
The dueling interests of White long had frustrated snowboarders whose love for the sport defines them. White never adopted that sentiment, and it alienated him in a snowboarding community that will freeze out those who don’t embrace the all-for-one, one-for-all ethos. Nevertheless, White was such preternatural a talent, so incredibly good at what he does, that as much as riders don’t like him – and dislike of White is a cottage industry in snowboarding – they could not deny the depth of his dominance.
Beating White wasn’t an impossibility so much as an endeavor, and the conditions at the Extreme Park fit perfectly. The halfpipe in the days leading up to the Olympic finals was a bumpy, slushy disaster.
Such conditions proved fortuitous after all. Shaun White, the king of Turin and Vancouver, was dethroned here in Sochi.
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- Shaun White