Shaun White stood at the top of the Olympic halfpipe Tuesday night, hunched over, hands resting above his knees. He high-fived his coach, clapped his hands, then jumped in for a ride that would decide if all the calculated choices he had made over a winter full of injuries, distractions and angst would pay off.
One jump, 15 feet above the pipe, was perfect. The second one looked good, too.
Then, the trick they call the “Yolo” — the one a rival invented but White had turned into his own.
His snowboard skittered across the halfpipe on the landing. White finished the run with a flourish and raised his index finger, trying to woo the judges who know, as well as anyone, what he’s done for his sport.
No sale. No medal, either. He finished fourth.
The world’s best-known, most-successful and best-marketed snowboarder lost to a man they call the “I-Pod,” and now, he may never hear the end of it.
“I would definitely say that tonight was just one of those nights,” White said after falling to Iouri Podladtchikov, the 25-year-old Russian-born inventor of the ‘Yolo.’ “The tricks I learned getting ready for the competition will carry on for a couple years in this sport. It’s a bummer. I had one of those nights.”
The Japanese pair of 15-year-old Ayumu Hirano and 18-year-old Taku Hiraoka won silver and bronze, and the Americans were shut out on the halfpipe for the first time since the sport was introduced to the Olympics in 1998.
Almost unthinkable, especially since White joined the mix and won the first of his two gold medals in 2006.
He wanted to win two this year — one in halfpipe and one in the newly introduced sport of slopestyle — but ended up with none.
“In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best move, but he’s ambitious,” said Jake Burton, the snowboarding guru and one of White’s very first sponsors. “That’s him. You wouldn’t want to see him trade that in for anything.”
When the fourth-place score, a 90.25, came up, White broke into a knowing smile.
He gave Podladtchikov a big hug and fatherly mussed his hair. He told him he was happy for him. But the champion had only himself to blame.
“I had a specific run I wanted to land and I didn’t put it down,” White said. “It’s one of the most frustrating things for me. If I land my run and I’m beaten, I’m OK with that. I didn’t get that chance tonight, and it happens.”