By Nick Mulvenney
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Iouri "I-Pod" Podladtchikov nailed the run of a lifetime to win the halfpipe gold for Switzerland at the Sochi Games on Tuesday and bring a stunning end to Shaun White's eight-year reign as Olympic champion.
One of the only riders who can match American White in the complexity of his tricks, the Russian-born Podladtchikov put together an electrifying display under the lights at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
A score of 94.75 proved enough to see off a pair of daredevil Japanese teenagers as well as overwhelming favorite White's challenge for a third successive gold medal.
"I feel like fainting. Everything came together exactly the way I planned," Podladtchikov told reporters.
"On this run, it felt like it was all meant to be and I was this position where I'm throwing down my hardest tricks with ease, there's no words for that."
Fifteen-year-old Ayumu Hirano took silver with 93.50 to become the youngest Olympic medalist on snow, pipping his 18-year-old compatriot Taku Hiraoka, who grabbed bronze with 92.25.
White, one of the biggest names in winter sports, finished fourth after remarkably dropping two tricks on his first run and only managing 90.25 following a couple of stumbles on his second.
After days of controversy about the quality of the pipe, which only intensified when the warm weather turned some of the packed snow to slush, a packed house was treated to just over an hour of dizzying acrobatics and thrilling drama.
There were plenty of falls and errors in the opening round as the riders battled a bobbly surface.
Hirano, the youngest man in the field, somehow managed to cling on to his board and he was rewarded with the only score in the 90s, his 90.75 enough for the lead after all 12 riders had gone.
The crowd had turned up to see White crowned King of the Pipe for a third time but from the start things did not look quite right and a huge groan went around the Extreme Park when the 27-year-old almost snapped his board in half on the lip.
His score of 35.00 left him 11th after the first run, while Podladtchikov was third.
"I love you man, but you're worrying me," White had told the Swiss after qualifying and Podladtchikov showed just why with his second run.
The 25-year-old was heading up to the five-meter mark with his first jumps, hit a front-side five then a frontside 1080 before finishing with a double corkscrew with 1440 degrees of rotation - his trademark "You Only Live Once" flip.
His erstwhile compatriots in the crowd erupted and Podladtchikov, knowing he had performed something special, threw his board at a fence in delight before kneeling with his head in the snow.
"They're yelling in Russian and I am yelling back in Russian," said Podladtchikov.
"It's beautiful to hear people cheering in my mother language. It's insane."
There were only six riders to go and two of them fell. Hiraoka improved his score to take second place, only for Hirano to edge ahead of him again, and that left only White.
Having scored 95.75 to lead qualifying, a winning score was within his grasp but again a couple of uncharacteristic errors cost him the yell he emitted at the bottom of the pipe was more one of hope than expectation.
"I am disappointed," said White, who gave up his other chance of an Olympic medal when he withdrew from the slopestyle over fears about the safety of the course.
"I hate the fact that I nailed it in practice, but it happens. It's hard to be consistent."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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- Shaun White