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Sochi Winter Olympics: Flying Tomato is squashed by copying iPod

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 - 8:38am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Defending champion came a cropper but showed his class and bravery by trying to mimic rival's innovation

Shaun White's flowing red Olympic locks had long been shorn and, like Samson, his mystical powers seemed to have deserted him as well. To everyone's amazement here in the mountains near Sochi, the biggest star of these 22nd Winter Games will be going home without a medal.

Never mind the Flying Tomato; here the world's greatest snowboarder must have felt like a squashed one as his wretched Games finished with him not even getting among the medals in the halfpipe event, which had hitherto been the American's personal Olympic fiefdom.

Now a comfy multi-millionaire with a businessman's haircut, White had been accused by opponents of being a chicken for not competing in the slopestyle event and he had been nursing both recent injuries and injured pride, so this was supposed to be his moment to tell everyone 'put that in your pipe'.

Instead, after a fairly fractious day, studded with boarders moaning about the slushy condition of the snow caused by the continuing soaring temperatures here, White refused to moan about being downed by the wrong type of snow.

Indeed, he reckoned the conditions under the dramatic night floodlights had improved from the daytime qualifying, and simply shrugged: "They were pretty tough, but it was the same for everyone. Tonight was just not my time."

Maybe, with a trillion other interests from his rock band to his computer games to distract him, his time is gradually disappearing. Because even still in the infancy of this Olympic event, this felt a little bit like the end of a brief, glorious era as White found himself beaten by a comic-reading 15-year-old Japanese boy, silver medallist Ayumu Hirano, and new Russian-born Swiss champion, Iouri "iPod" Podladtchikov.

And the great irony? White, in his first round, had actually fallen for the first time in his Olympic career while attempting the bravura trick which "iPod" invented, the 'Yolo' - You Only Live Once.

Then after the second run, a bit like a heavyweight champion who has been beaten up, but is still trying to convince the judges he won on points, White concluded his dramatic last gasp, no-holds-barred attempt by hoisting a wagging finger to the night sky.

Good try, great theatre but no cigar. A couple of dodgy landings scuppered him and he had not matched Podladtchikov, who had produced a spectacular second run to earn 94.75 points, just pipping Hirano, the first round leader, on 93.50 and another Japanese teenager, 18-year-old Taku Hiraoka, who took bronze with 92.25. White, who had led qualifying on 95.75, could only score 90.25 when it mattered.

Podladtchikov had landed the Yolo trick successfully at an event in Europe last season and White had studied it, before going on to land it twice successfully in build-up events.

Yet these have been troubled weeks for White after injuring his ankle before the Games. When the International Olympic Committee introduced slopestyle to Sochi, he was the one who was supposed to be the main beneficiary, as he decided to attempt what many said would be an impossible double.

Yet White thrives on that sort of challenge, so it was to some astonishment and derision from his rivals that he pulled out of the slopestyle, claiming he wanted to save his dodgy ankle for his main event.

Canadian Sebastien Toutant led the way with tweets suggesting White had pulled out not because he was scared of injury, but of losing. "Mr White. It's easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can't win," read Toutant's provocative tweet.

This must have been a red rag to a bull to White because other insinuations that he had 'bottled it' seemed extraordinarily disrespectful to a man who has been such a daredevil pioneer in his sport.

His courage was evident on that first run as he went all out to land the Yolo only to fall on his backside, but then quickly attempted another double spin only for his board, then his posterior, to smack painfully on the edge of the pipe. He ended up limping off with a dead leg, looking dead embarrassed.

In Turin and Vancouver, he had been able to show off on the second run, effectively using them as laps of honour such was his dominance; here, though, lying 11th, he was under pressure like never before as 'iPod' produced the run of a lifetime.

As the man says, you only live once, so why not try a trick which necessitates in all 1,440 degrees of spin - two head-over-heels flips and two 360-degree turns? Amazing. "I saw videos of Shaun doing it really well," noted i-Pod afterwards. "I got bummed, said: 'Damn, that's my trick and he's doing it better than me.' Today, I guess I was doing it a little better." Ouch!

White showed genuine cool snowboarding class in his acceptance of defeat, hugging his conqueror. It was not the end of the world, he reckoned. He was going touring with his band, Bad Things, and would "see my family and reflect". Things could be worse. The Tomato will fly again and still has a pounds 30?million to console himself.


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