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Shaun White Misses The Medal Stand As 'I-Pod' Gets The Gold


Now to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where American snowboarder Shaun White attempted a three-peat today. He was trying to be the first three-time gold medal winner in the half-pipe competition; actually, the first American man to win three consecutive golds in any Winter Olympic event. And NPR's Robert Smith watched the action today and joins us now from outside the half-pipe venue. Robert, how did things turn out for Shaun White?

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Well, at first it was set up exactly the way he wanted it. So he got the best score in the preliminary runs, and so that means he was going to go last in the final. And that's perfect, right? You can see everyone else's tricks, then you can do what you want to do. And during his first run, Shaun White had the biggest air of the night. He was looking great.

And then he sort of caught an edge and sat down a bit on the snow, and lost some speed. And then he had a sort of brutal hit of his snowboard on the edge of the halfpipe, and it was a sort of disaster of a run. And he was in 11th place.

Now, they get a second run. And everyone in the crowd was like, OK, Shaun White - like, he can pull this out. But what he didn't count on was a man from Switzerland - he was born in Russia; his name is Iouri Podladtchikov. And in fact, everyone calls him "I-Pod." And I-Pod - this is his official nickname; he goes by this - I-Pod comes down in his run and does the most amazing trick. And at that point, Shaun White had no chance whatsoever. He did a pretty good second run, but he got fourth place.

SIEGEL: Fourth place for the man they call - or used to call "The Flying Tomato." Does that still hold, now that he's had a haircut?

SMITH: No. He does not call himself The Flying Tomato anymore. He calls himself, basically, an international businessman. I mean, this guy has sponsorships. He has a band. He has a documentary. He has an entire international business that is built on himself succeeding. And so there was a lot more pressure than just Olympic pressure on him today. This is his entire business enterprise at risk.

And some people would say, like, that's the kind of pressure that got to him because, remember, he's in his head, already planning on whatever run he's doing appearing on posters and YouTube, and being his calling card for the next four years. But that did not happen. And in fact, what's going to come out of this Olympics are some new stars.

SIEGEL: Well, who were the winners of the competition today?

SMITH: All right. Well, let's talk about I-Pod, OK? I-Pod threw something called a YOLO, which, of course, stands for you only live once. Now, a YOLO is a cab double-cork 1440. It is an amazing trick. And that's what he did coming down. He got the highest score. The crowd went wild. They knew immediately. He knew immediately - he threw his snowboard; he jumped up and down; he put his face into the camera. I mean, I-Pod knew that there is no way - not even Shaun White could beat him with this trick.

SIEGEL: So I-Pod is a star. Did he win the gold?

SMITH: He won the gold. Both silver and bronze were taken by Japan. So you heard me correctly here. The United States did not medal in snowboard halfpipe, a sport in which they dominate. The bronze medal went to Taku Hiraoka. He's 18 years old. And the silver medal went to Ayumu Hirano, and he is 15 years old. And a lot of people say he is the next Shaun White - so talented, so young, an amazing young man. He's only 5-1, but he does the most amazing tricks, and so clean, so technical at his age. He was the youngest medalist at the X Games. And now, he's a 15-year-old silver medalist at the Olympics.

SIEGEL: And Shaun White, of course, very publicly decided not to compete in the slopestyle. So today is it for him? This is the end of his Sochi games?

SMITH: Yes. This is it for him. I mean, this was the only event that he decided to compete in, and he was comfortable with that. Earlier today, he talked to reporters, and he said, yeah, you know, I needed the extra practice. I needed to get familiar with this course. And I am happy that I risked everything on this because this is the medal that's important to me - the third gold medal. And of course, he didn't make it; fourth place.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Robert Smith at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Robert, thanks and YOLO.

SMITH: You got it. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.