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?

John Shuster, 30 pounds lighter, rallies for 4th Olympic curling berth

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John Shuster is going to a fourth Olympics. It’s one more chance to prove Urban Dictionary wrong.

Shuster, 30 pounds lighter since his second straight Olympic failure in Sochi, led a team that beat Heath McCormick‘s squad at the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha on Saturday night.

Shuster, Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and John Landsteiner lost the opener of a best-of-three finals series on Thursday.

They came back to deliver in a pair of must-win games, 9-4 on Friday night and 7-5 on Saturday, after spending each day at the Omaha Zoo.

The new-look Shuster — leaner and, at least this weekend, clutch — would astonish those who know him by scenes at the last two Olympics.

After taking bronze in 2006 as a role player, he led the last two U.S. Olympic teams to 2-7 records in 2010 and in 2014. Last place in Vancouver, where he was benched after an 0-4 start. Next to last place in Sochi.

After the last Olympics, the former bartender from Chisholm, Minn., was left off USA Curling’s 10-man high performance team.

He took it as motivation to get in shape.

Shuster, a father of a 2- and a 4-year-old who once said, “If I don’t have pizza three or four times a week, I’m not happy,” now totes meal replacement shakes. He’s starting to enjoy Olympic lifting.

Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner, all absent from that USA Curling high performance list, formed their own team. They became Team USA in their first season together and represented the Stars and Stripes at worlds in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Their results — fourth, third and fifth —  marked the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s finishes at that level in a decade.

Shuster is set to join Debbie McCormick as the only Americans to curl at four Olympics. The sport was part of the first Winter Games in 1924, then absent as a medal sport until 1998.

“I don’t think it’s about the four Olympics for me,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “What this is about — and what I’m about — is getting my teammates to now. I have two new Olympians on this team, and I know how special that is.”

George, the 35-year-old vice skip for Shuster, led a team that lost to Shuster in the 2010 Olympic Trials final. The liquor store manager from Duluth, Minn., is going to his first Winter Games.

As is the 28-year-old Hamilton, whose younger sister qualified for PyeongChang earlier Saturday.

Landsteiner, a 27-year-old corrosion engineer, played with Shuster since 2011, including in Sochi.

Alternate Joe Polo can go 12 years between Olympic appearances after taking bronze on that Torino team.

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MORE: U.S. Winter Olympic Trials broadcast schedule

Katie Ledecky wins race by 54 seconds, breaks record

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Katie Ledecky is back at Stanford and back to pulverizing distance races.

The sophomore and five-time Olympic champion won a 1,650-yard freestyle by 54.45 seconds at a meet at Texas A&M on Saturday night.

The runner-up was in a different heat; Ledecky won her heat by 1:02.16.

Ledecky lowered her own American record, clocking 15:03.31. She had the previous mark of 15:03.92 set last Nov. 20.

Ledecky had every swimmer lapped in the 25-yard pool before the halfway point and ended up lapping everyone twice.

The men also raced a 1,650 on Saturday. The winner clocked 15:18.95, which was 15.64 seconds slower than Ledecky’s time.

Full results are here.

The 1,650 is the longest race on the NCAA program, while the longest race at the Olympics and world championships is the 1500m.

The No. 2 woman all-time in the 1,650 is triple 2008 Olympic medalist Katie Hoff, a full 21.04 seconds slower.

Ledecky owns the 1500m world record, too, 13.4 seconds faster than any other woman in history.

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MORE: Michael Phelps’ discussion with Katie Ledecky after 2017 Worlds