ASPEN, Colo. — Olympic champion snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov slammed his face against the halfpipe and had to be carted off the course Sunday at the Winter X Games in an accident that provided a jarring look at the stakes involved in landing a gold-medal run.
Podladtchikov was taken to the hospital, where scans for brain and neck injuries came back negative. X Games officials said he suffered a broken nose and was awake and alert late Sunday night.
The 29-year-old rider better known as the I-Pod was at the end of his second run, trying to complete what had been a clean and high-flying trip with a 1260-degree flip. As he was gliding back into the pipe, he lost his bearings and his legs crumpled, then his face smacked against the lower part of the halfpipe wall and he slid, motionless, to the bottom.
Medical personnel took about 20 minutes to stabilize Podladtchikov’s neck and strap him into a sled to be taken to the hospital.
“It was terrible. You don’t really know how he’s doing,” said eighth-place finisher Jake Pates, who was the next rider to go after the injury. “He wasn’t moving, there was a crowd of people around him. You can’t help but feel for him. Definitely gets your stomach turned, gets you in a weird head space.”
Immediately, thoughts of Kevin Pearce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a practice in 2009, and of halfpipe skier Sarah Burke, who died in a practice in 2012, came to mind. This accident wasn’t as severe, but the fact it happened in a nationally televised contest — the biggest this side of the Olympics — brought the dangers of the halfpipe to the fore, only two weeks before the Olympics.
“It’s part of it, for sure,” said American Ben Ferguson, who will be in Pyeongchang. “People take digs, and you just have to be smart about it. You know you take a risk and you just do what you’ve got to do.”
Indeed, not even the scare of the injury could stop the riders from raising the stakes in the last contest before most of them head to South Korea for the Olympics.
Less than 30 minutes after silence enveloped the previously raucous halfpipe, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, nailed one of the most daunting runs ever seen — landing back-to-back 1440-degree spins en route to a winning score of 99.
It was I-Pod who landed the first 1440 — the Yolo Flip — in a contest. That was five years ago with the Sochi Olympics approaching. Podladtchikov’s feat sent two-time Olympic champion Shaun White to work trying to duplicate it. By the end of 2014, they were the only two riders to land it in a competition.
At Sunday’s contest alone, and with White back home in California watching the event, there were three who could — Podladtchikov, Hirano and 17-year-old Toby Miller, who landed it twice on his way to a fifth-place finish.
Those who weren’t gunning for that trick were upping the stakes in other ways. Australia’s Scotty James, who will contend for the gold in Korea along with White and Hirano, twice completed runs that included three versions of double-cork 1260, including the switch backside 12, in which he rides backward into the wall of the pipe before taking off for two full rotations. He finished second with a score of 98.
“It kind of speaks for itself,” James said of his trick. “That’s why no one spins switch backside in the halfpipe.”
James said he’ll keep trying his trick. Hirano and White will push on with their 1440s. And if Sunday’s contest was any indication, the halfpipe contest in Pyeongchang could be an all-timer.
But one that could go on without the defending champion, Podladtchikov.
“It almost felt like I was the one getting hurt, as well,” Hirano said through a translator. “It did put a little fear in me.”