PYEONGCHANG, South Kore – Olympic halfpipe champion Iouri Podladtchikov won’t defend his title due to injuries sustained last month at the Winter X Games.
The gold medalist, known as the I-Pod, practiced on the Olympic halfpipe Friday, but afterward said it would be “totally unreasonable” for him to compete.
The 29-year-old, who was born in Russia and competes for Switzerland, took a nasty fall on his final jump at the X Games on Jan. 28, banging his face against the bottom of the pipe. He was motionless for more than 10 minutes while medics stabilized his neck and strapped him to a stretcher.
Doctors diagnosed him with a broken nose and released him from the hospital the next day. He traveled to South Korea with the hopes of competing, starting with the qualifying round next Tuesday, but realized quickly it wouldn’t be possible. He’ll go home Saturday.
Podladtchikov said his most recent MRI “certainly showed some improvements. But my state of health remains far too unstable to allow me to compete at the level of Olympic competition.”
That cuts the list of prime contenders in one of the premier Olympic events to three: Two-time gold medalist Shaun White, 2014 silver medalist Ayumu Hirano and Australia’s Scotty James.
Though he won’t be on the halfpipe, it will be hard to ignore I-Pod’s impact on the current state of snowboarding.
In the leadup to the Sochi Games, he became the first to land a 1440-degree jump – one he coined the “Yolo Flip” – in a competition. That sent White racing back to practice in an attempt to match it. White began landing it more consistently, but when the Olympics came, Podladtchikov did it to earn the gold medal, while White fell and finished fourth.
“I-Pod is an awesome rider, puts on a show,” James said. “He’s been at the forefront, done a lot of really positive things for snowboarding.”
Only minutes after I-Pod got hurt at the X Games, Hirano, the 19-year-old from Japan, became the first to land back-to-back 1440s in a contest. White says he’s working on the same. The rider who can put them down in the final will have a good chance of winning the gold.
It’s hard to know where I-Pod would have fit in this contest. He had been dealing with a knee injury that slowed the start to his season. But before the X Games, he won a World Cup event in his home country. The run in Aspen that shut down his quest for an Olympic repeat included a pair of 1260s that would have put him in medal contention had he not crashed on the final jump.