Iouri Podladtchikov

Iouri Podladtchikov sets the record straight on Russian meeting

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Iouri Podladtchikov answered a reporter’s phone call in Frankfurt, Germany, and began talking before any questions were asked.

“I want to make a statement right now before this [expletive] storm goes anywhere,” the Olympic snowboard halfpipe champion said.

What followed was a thought-out, 45-minute conversation. The man they call I-Pod balanced feelings toward his birth nation Russia, home nation Switzerland, keeping his phone charged and preparing for a flight from Frankfurt to Milan.

On Wednesday, a Russian outlet quoted Podladtchikov saying he would discuss a Russian proposal to switch from representing Switzerland back to Russia in international competition.

Podladtchikov’s nationality was a topic of conversation leading into the Olympics in February and after the Swiss won halfpipe gold over Shaun White and others. In particular because he triumphed in Russia, where he is celebrated.

Podladtchikov was born in Moscow but moved across Europe before settling in Zurich at age 8. He finished 37th at the 2006 Olympics at age 17 competing for Russia, but switched to represent Switzerland after he gained citizenship there in 2007.

He has said he switched countries not for nationalistic reasons but to better his snowboarding environment. He remains a dual citizen.

Podladtchikov sent the following series of tweets Friday and, in the phone interview less than an hour later, said “I’ve never done anything like I just did on Twitter.”

Here’s what Podladtchikov said in the interview about Russia and snowboarding:

* He met and talked with three Russian snowboard officials at the hotel where he was staying in Moscow on Thursday afternoon, his first sitdown discussions with such people in two years. He said he did it out of respect to the Russians.

* Yes, the officials mentioned that in a perfect world they wish Podladtchikov would be representing Russia.

* The overriding purpose of the meeting wasn’t to persuade Podladtchikov to represent Russia again. It was to discuss ways Podladtchikov could boost snowboarding in Russia because it is gaining popularity with the nation’s youth. They wanted his advice on specific ways to grow the sport, such as developing facilities.

“It’s not about me being a sellout here and trying to get myself the best deal possible,” Podladtchikov said Friday, before any questions were asked. “It’s the total opposite. It’s trying to give back the best things possible.”

* Podladtchikov entered the meeting Thursday skeptical, given Russian officials had been trying to get him to represent Russia ever since his switch to Switzerland, even a month before the Sochi Olympics. But he left pleased that the focus was on the future of snowboarding in Russia rather than his future of snowboarding in Russia.

* Podladtchikov remains open to hearing out Russian snowboarding about his representation, as he always has been. But he doesn’t think they could bring enough to the table for him to leave his comfortable situation as a Swiss.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s still somewhere in the back of [Russian officials’] heads, would it still be possible [for me to represent Russia],” Podladtchikov said. “But I think that we all now that it’s pretty impossible.

“It would be really unloyal to the people who helped me out to get me to where I am to go back and forth. Nobody likes those types of people who go after the better [situation]. And it can’t be better [in Russia]. That’s what it is.

“They can’t make it better because to do so they would have to believe in somebody in the first place and never stop believing. In that case, they lost [Podladtchikov mentioned going to the 2006 Olympics “by myself”]. You can’t buy that with money. I’ve really made it clear that they [Russian officials] failed. They have no rights here.”

As for snowboarding, Podladtchikov expressed a desire to compete “as soon as there’s snow” next season. He has ideas for new tricks, or variations of his famous YOLO Flip (“You Only Live Once”), and hopes to compete against his friendly rival White at the 2015 Winter X Games. He has said he might call his next new trick, “Maybe I Live Forever.”

White missed this year’s X Games for the first time this millennium in order to prepare for Sochi, where he had hoped to enter halfpipe and slopestyle but pulled out of slopestyle the day before qualifying. He then finished fourth in the halfpipe final.

White was asked on “TODAY” less than 24 hours after the halfpipe disappointment if he would go for a fourth Olympics in 2018.

“I think so,” White said.

Podladtchikov and White met at a party in New York about three weeks later. White arrived holding two gold balloons to cheekily celebrate the Swiss’ Olympic triumph. The letter “F” was written on one gold balloon. The letter “U” was on the other one.

Podladtchikov did not ask White if they would be facing off at another Olympics.

“We don’t bother each other with those kinds of questions,” Podladtchikov said, “although I would love to know.”

White is focusing on his band, Bad Things, which is set to play the large Firefly Music Festival in Delaware in June. Podladtchikov delved into his off-the-snow passion, too — photography.

Russia’s Vogue surprised him by publishing his work Friday, “sensual” images of his model friends who then called him in tears of joy when they found the link.

It was a big score. Remember, Podladtchikov was asked what’s next in a press conference after winning gold in Russia.

“I’m going to shoot the cover of Vogue,” he said three months ago.

“I almost lost my consciousness when I read that tweet,” Podladtchikov said Friday from Frankurt, where he was at the 100th anniversary of Leica, the brand of camera he fancies.

He’s excited for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles, where he’ll definitely be bringing his camera.

“I’d really love to shoot the LA beaches and desert and typical LA locations,” Podladtchikov said, “but I don’t know if I’m going to have the time for all of that.”

Yevgeny Plushenko returns to training, but will he compete again?

Gus Kenworthy qualifies for Olympic ski slopestyle team

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Two nights after taking a massive slam in the halfpipe, Gus Kenworthy bounced back to earn a spot on his second U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

Kenworthy placed second at the final Olympic qualifier for freeski slopestyle, which was held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain. That result, combined with a victory at a selection event last weekend, qualified him for the Olympic team.

It wasn’t the smoothest week for Kenworthy, who had been trying to make the U.S. team in both halfpipe and slopestyle.

During Friday night’s final qualifier for the ski halfpipe team, Kenworthy struggled to land a run and then had a hard crash on his final attempt.

On Saturday, he placed 58th out of 63 skiers in the preliminary round of a slopestyle selection event.

It was a different story on Sunday though.

By making the slopestyle team, Kenworthy will have another shot at an Olympic medal. He won a silver medal at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, where slopestyle made its debut, and was part of a podium sweep alongside Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper.

Earlier in the day, Goepper became the first skier to make the men’s slopestyle Olympic team. Because of weather delays throughout the week, Mammoth ended up hosting a pair of Olympic qualifiers on Sunday.

Goepper and Kenworthy were the only skiers to earn automatic nominations onto the men’s slopestyle Olympic team during the qualifying period. Two more skiers can still be added to the team as discretionary selections.

McRae Williams, the 2017 X Games silver medalist, has a strong case for one of those two spots. He finished sixth and fifth at Sunday’s two slopestyle qualifiers.

The other spot on the team looks a little more uncertain. Among the riders likely in consideration is Alex Hall, who was fourth at the final qualifier and is the next ranked skier in terms of qualifying points. It’s also possible that reigning Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, who just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL, could be in the discussion.

While Kenworthy is now assured a spot on the slopestyle team, he’s likely on the outside looking in for halfpipe. The three automatic spots have already been allocated to David Wise, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace, and the discretionary spot appears likely to go to Aaron Blunck.

Discretionary picks for both slopestyle and halfpipe are expected to be announced in the next few days.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:

1. Gus Kenworthy, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
3. McRae Williams, 95
4. Alex Hall, 95
5. Quinn Wolferman, 79
6. Bobby Brown, 68
7. Noah Wallace, 60
8. Joss Christensen, 60

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.

Nick Goepper becomes first skier to qualify for U.S. Olympic men’s slopestyle team

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The U.S. men’s freeski slopestyle team has its first member for PyeongChang.

Nick Goepper qualified for his second Olympic team on Sunday as the U.S. selection events start to draw to a close.

Goepper, who grew up learning to ski in Indiana, was on the podium earlier this year at two of the first three selection events for the ski slopestyle team, which enabled him to meet objective criteria for Olympic qualifying. Though he finished just eighth in the first of two Olympic qualifiers being held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain, he was able to secure his spot on the team because no other Americans finished on the podium.

At the last Olympics, where slopestyle made its debut, Goepper won a bronze medal. He was part of a historic medal sweep and was joined on the podium by Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy.

Those two are still looking to qualify.

Christensen just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL. After not making the final at either slopestyle qualifier last week, he finished seventh at Mammoth and could be in contention for a discretionary spot.

As for Kenworthy, he took a hard slam in Friday night’s halfpipe final and then did not advance out of Saturday’s preliminary round for slopestyle. He is slated to compete in another slopestyle qualifier, which will be held later today. Kenworthy can still clinch his spot on the Olympic team with a top-three finish in that one.

Another contender for the team is McRae Williams, who was the top U.S. skier at Mammoth with a sixth-place finish. Williams won a silver medal at X Games last year.

While the bronze medal and the U.S. podium sweep put Goepper in the spotlight in Sochi, he is hungry for more.

“To be completely honest, I was a bit frustrated with my result at first,” Goepper told NBC Olympics last year. “I really wanted to win that day, and I went there with all the confidence in the world and the expectation to be on the top. I definitely feel like I’ve got some unfinished business at the Winter Olympics.”

Olympic qualifying for the ski slopestyle team concludes with a second contest later today.

Kenworthy is the only one who could officially secure a nomination in that event, but all other skiers will still be looking to earn discretionary spots on the team, which are expected to be allocated next week.

Up to four men and four women can ultimately be named to the U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

U.S. Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 4 of 5 Events:
1. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
2. Gus Kenworthy, 140*
3. McRae Williams, 90
4. Quinn Wolferman, 79
5. Alex Hall, 57
6. Bobby Brown, 56
7. Joss Christensen, 54
8. Willie Borm, 50

Women’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:
1. Maggie Voisin, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Caroline Claire, 92*
3. Devin Logan, 90
4. Darian Stevens, 85
5. Taylor Lundquist, 81
6. Julia Krass, 72

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.
*Has one top-three finish.