To the world at large, there was only ever going to be one Olympic halfpipe gold medallist coming out of Sochi and his name was Shaun White. But to those in the know the situation wasn't as black and white as it had been made out – on his day Shaun's cocktail of technical insanity blended with the brute force attack of pure, unfettered amplitude is hard to beat, but the likes of Danny Davis, Ayumu Hirano and co. had clearly closed the gap since Vancouver. And then there was Iouri Podladtchikov.
As Sochi kicked off, Hirano had shown he could go toe-to-toe with White in the height department but not the tricks, Davis had the style but perhaps wasn't going as consistently big, but the man known to the wider world as IPod not only was known for going huge and with crazy tech, he was capable of kicking out a stratosphere-scratching air-to-fakie to stoke the purists. He was also in a position few pipe riders have ever been – he had tricks in his bag that Shaun didn't. Remember that slightly cringe 'Shaun, triple, triple, Sochi' video? Though at the time we wouldn't have gone as far as betting the house on Iouri, we did believe that he would prove to be Shaun's most significant threat.
And come the night of the contest, Iouri seized his moment, taking advantage of a nervy display from the usually ice-cold White to bend the rutted Sochi pipe to his will and post the highest score of the finals. It meant he followed up his win at the Burton European Open – where he treated us with a victory lap comprising some of the biggest, most stylish straight airs we've ever witnessed –with the not-insignificant title of Men's Olympic Halfpipe Champion.
Before we sent it at a Lugano club that Vans had laid on to throw him a celebratory party, we sat down with Iouri to see how his life has changed since snagging the bling, if he's as motivated to shred these days and what he makes of arguments for mixing up the format of super tube snowboarding...
Obviously you’ve been working towards winning the Olympics for many years, and now you’ve done it. Was achieving that goal all that you thought it would be?
That’s a good question. That’s one that I would have expected someone to ask me but nobody ever did. I think it’s much more than I expected, which is kind of a beautiful surprise because you’d expect it to be so far away and so humongous, everything surrounding it, when it actually happened to me I did not expect a lot of things that did happen to me and a lot of them I did not expect that they would happen. So it’s kind of crazy.
Was there a massive feeling of elation, or exhaustion, when it sank in that you’d achieved what you’d been working towards for at least 4 years or more?
The craziest thing that happened at first was the anxiety to go back and keep doing what I’m doing. I came home, I went straight back to training, making plans for certain things that have nothing to do with just sitting down and relaxing – which I should have done. The point that it really sank in was definitely when I had a feeling of being in desperate need of a real break. And why I kind of phrased it that way was that the most horrible part about that feeling of ‘I need a break, this is too much’ was that first of all there was two serious weeks planned ahead that were impossible to cancel…
Was that media commitments or...?
Media commitments that I really liked, plus certain things that couldn’t have been put off schedule – it was just too important. And also the lack of energy to relax. I think to be able to give your body and mind a real vacation you have to be able to still have some energy left to plan it, to actually even enjoy certain things you need some juice, and I didn’t have any left. I was down to zero. But it’s also a beautiful feeling because you don’t really feel like that that often either – that far out, you know?
Have you had a chance to get off that merry-go-round yet and spend some time for yourself, rather than what might be expected of you?
I think on one hand I’ve only been doing what I want to do. Even after I won. It’s what I want to do, and it’s not like what a regular person that wins and wants to market their win the very best way does. I have a different approach. But because I have a different approach it’s also taking a lot of my energy and time my spirits away, because I’m trying really hard to point into a direction where I can hopefully sit in comfort for the next couple of years, and not be running around like crazy. So I’m trying to run a little bit faster right now. All the opportunities are happening because I won, and of course I could just sit back and relax but I think that it’s way more important to take advantage of it and try to live it to the fullest. The time when everything calms down will come by itself.
Are you still going to be as motivated to try and do it again in four years, or push your own halfpipe riding, or push your snowboarding in another direction?
Definitely. Most people, even the people that know me, were like ‘If he’s gonna win he’s probably never going to snowboard again.’ Like that kind of feeling was maybe in some people’s heads, but it’s totally the opposite. I have never had more motivation to go snowboarding than when I won. It’s always like that with certain things, like you always want what you can’t have. In the moment that I’d won I knew exactly that in the next couple of weeks, maybe even months, I will not be able to [snowboard]. It’s going to take a while to go back on snow and to continue to do what I’ve been doing this whole time because there’s all this… I mean it sounds weird for me to say this in this tone but I knew exactly that there will be all these celebrations, there’s all these appointments, all this media, all this business talk, these plans, all this stuff that has nothing to do with you, you know, snowboarding. All this has to happen because you won, because you have to answer people’s questions. Because you care. And for me, at that point, I was like there’s nothing in the world I want more than to continue doing what I’m doing, and to do it even more. My answer to your question is I want to extend my halfpipe skills, I want to extend all my snowboarding skills… you know we’re definitely going to film more street action next year, which I can’t wait to do! I almost went on a rail trip after Sochi, it just really really didn’t fit the plan [laugh] but I would have wished to go.
When we’ve spoken before I remember you explaining why contest snowboarding is unique because you have three tries to land this one run. That’s it. It’s not like you can do it over and over to get it perfect for a video. But now you’ve spent many years doing just that is filming a part or something like that a direction that you would like to pursue, or do you thrive on competing and would like to continue in that vein?
To be honest I think that it’s a bigger, greater goal to land your run in the certain time frame that just counts for the rest of your life than filming a video part, just because [in a movie] you’re not in charge of the editing, you’re not in charge of the music a lot of the time, and a lot of people can really screw up your work there [laughs]... Well I’m not really saying that nobody’s screwing up my Olympic experience either, especially the filming and that stuff.
Last question. Recently several people have been vocal about how the format of halfpipe snowboarding could do with a bit of a change, and some have been experimenting with different shapes of pipes, or pipes with features in them. What’s your take on all that?
My take is very simple. People are still falling. People are still not going big enough… I think it’s a different approach to making things more interesting, which is basically the goal in putting different obstacles into it, making a more creative party, but this could be a huge discussion you know... you want to be artists or you want to express yourself? You don’t need much to express yourself. You know, let artists be artists and do something in art, don’t try to go up on a snowboarding competition stage and make it look like it’s a… artists don’t put a first, second and a third place. There is no first, second and third; there is something that makes you cry and something that makes you laugh. That’s it. There is no art in competition. And I think that a lot of things get mixed up here with the whole trying to make more creative competitions.
In a perfect world, yes [include obstacles], but to be honest with you the way that the sport is now, people are too bad at what they are doing to put obstacles in their pipes. Just to be honest with you, I won the Olympic Games just recently and I don’t feel good enough to show you a run over and over again and switch it up and still make it look amazing in front of a huge crowd.
Like musicians: they record a fucking album and they do it many times, and in snowboarding when someone is doing his run over and over again some idiot comes up and says ‘Huh, he’s only doing the same thing over and over again, but come on. Really? Let him just do what he’s doing and let him do it good enough. People are still falling way too much. I think the format has to change, it has to become more easy, it has to become more perfect for people not to fall. I wouldn’t put obstacles into people’s venues to make it more interesting, I would do the opposite. I would try to make the pipe more rideable, first, and then maybe in 30 years from now they’ll be so bored and it’ll be so boring to watch that it would be maybe interesting to put an obstacle there.
But as long as people are still falling on straight airs, and that still happens. I like to watch Qualis too and in Qualis so many random mistakes happen that you keep asking yourself, ‘Fuck, but these people are doing this their whole life, right? Why are they falling?’ So that’s my opinion.
Ok, that's plenty. Thanks for your time dude!