Snowboard giant Shaun White's Olympic gold medal reign came to a stunning end Wednesday at the halfpipe final in Sochi. The two-time Olympic champion landed in fourth place in a down-to-the-wire contest that ended his attempt to make history.
Following a powerful performance in the halfpipe qualifier, White attempted a series of ambitious moves that he couldn't cleanly land. He wiped out on the first of two runs at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, putting him in second-to-last place with a score of 35 out of 100. With all the pressure on his final run, White improved, but not enough to crack the top three.
"I'm disappointed," White said. "I hate the fact I nailed it in practice, but it happens. It's hard to be consistent."
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Swiss star Iouri Podladtchikov -- the "I-Pod" -- took the title from White, landing a 1440-degree whirling jump he nicknamed the "Yolo." It was the very same jump White attempted and didn't manage to land.
Podladtchikov won the gold with a 94.75.
Earlier in the day White hugged Podladtchikov at the bottom of the halfpipe and told him, "I love you man, but you're making me nervous."
Silver went to Japan's Ayumu Hirano, and bronze to his teammate Taku Hiraoka.
Americans Danny Davis and Greg Bretz, who also competed in finals, landed in tenth place and dead last, respectively. Both had major wipeouts that eliminated any hopes the two had for the podium. Taylor Gold, a strong medal contender heading into the morning qualifier, was the only member of the U.S. team that did not advance to finals.
White was aiming to be the first American man to notch three consecutive Olympic golds in an individual Winter Olympic event.
His failure to do so comes at the end of a long week of intense career pressure. After arriving in Sochi, White stirred up controversy for abandoning a second Olympic event (slopestyle snowboarding) to focus exclusively on the halfpipe.
Some fellow snowboarders took to Twitter to slam his decision, calling him a coward and accusing him of leaving the contest because he knew he wouldn't win. American slopestyle snowboarder Kyle Mack, who would have been next in line for Sochi, tweeted his disappointment in Shaun's last-minute calculation. "Love how shaun drops out of the olympics. that could have been my spot."
Still, White said earlier Tuesday that he remained happy with his decision to pull out of the slopestyle competition to give himself three full days of practice on a halfpipe that's been less-than-ideal from the start. He also thanked his fans in a video message for their unwavering support.
"You're the best," he said. "You support me through the decisions I make, the training regimen. You show up to the contests. You watch it on TV, and I feel it. ... I want to do my best, not only for myself but for you guys. Wish me luck and here we go."
His first run of the day was impressive--especially considering the difficult course conditions. With temperatures topping 40 degrees and snowboarders complaining about the slushy snow, organizers initially planned to scrap the qualifier before later reversing course.
"I'm really hoping it holds up for finals," White said.
Some riders appeared to struggle on the halfpipe--which has been criticized for being too vertical, too narrow, too bumpy--but White easily dominated it.
With an American flag-printed bandana over his nose and mouth, White clapped his hands before diving into the halfpipe, executing a series of big-air moves and flawlessly landing each. When he finished, the star high fived fans while waiting for the judges' decision.
They gave him a 95.75 out of 100 on his first of two runs, guaranteeing him a direct ticket to finals. He teased that he would try out some of his most impressive moves yet.
"You heard the rumors," he said. "I've been working on some big tricks."
One of the big tricks turned out to be the "Yolo" which ended his Olympic reign.