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?

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened