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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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No private halfpipe for Shaun White before this Olympics

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Shaun White trained for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics on private halfpipes built for him by sponsors, away from prying eyes in Silverton, Colo., and Perisher, Australia.

White will not keep that tradition going for PyeongChang 2018.

“You would train on your own because you don’t want to just give someone a blueprint of how to do a trick,” White said recently in between New York City media appearances. “As I’ve gotten older, the motivation to be there in the silence to get it done is not what it used to be. You need other things to change in your outlook and attitude.”

White, who at 30 is older than any previous U.S. Olympic halfpipe snowboarder, plans to do the bulk of his training at his home mountain in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

He’s going for a fourth Olympics and a third halfpipe gold medal. The much-talked-about storyline will be White trying to make amends for Sochi, where he crashed in one run and finished fourth.

In the early days of his career, White’s family would drive six hours to Mammoth every Friday in their 1964 Econoline van, nicknamed “Big Mo.” White became part owner of Mammoth a little over one year ago.

Training at Mammoth, White has said people have stood on the edge of the halfpipe trying to get selfies while he’s flying above the 22-foot walls.

“It’s like Jeff Gordon trying to practice driving in the streets, or shooting free throws at the local court,” White said. “Most of the time, I like when people are around, because it builds the energy.”

White will still have private sessions at Mammoth. They will increase as the Olympics get closer. In that sense, it will not be too different than four and eight years ago. Plus, the Mammoth pipe was rebuilt by Frank Wells, who also designed the Silverton and Perisher pipes.

When White does train with other riders, they will often be women. He mentioned fellow Mammoth native Chloe Kim and fellow Burton-sponsored Olympic champion Kelly Clark.

“She’s not particularly a threat to me,” White joked of the 16-year-old Kim, who has drawn comparisons to White for her precociousness.

White gradually improved this season, working his way into form following left ankle surgery last fall. He was 11th at Winter X Games — his worst finish there since 2000 — but then finished first, second and first in his last three events.

He peaked at the finale, the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo. White landed a cab double cork 1440 and a double McTwist 1260 in one run for the first time, according to The Associated Press.

That run was enough to beat Australian Scotty James, who had won X Games and the Olympic test event the previous two months, topping fields that included White both times. James is viewed as White’s top challenger at the moment.

“No dissing to Scotty or anybody, but Scotty won those events with the run I did at Vancouver in 2010,” said White, who unlike James attempted a double cork 1440 at X Games, but fell. “That’s awesome, he’s kind of doing it his own way and he’s doing it big and confident and smooth. It’s tough when you show up to the contest and it’s like, if I did that run, they know I can do that run, I did it in 2010, so I don’t think I would have gotten a great score for it. I have to go here [raises his hand higher]. And that’s fine, because I feel like it’s going to push me to that place, but at times it is very challenging when you’re expected to do something. It’s not really looking at the whole field of what’s happening, it’s like they know you and they expect something. And that’s kind of like the shoes I live in.”

White believed he and James were even at the Olympic test event. Judges scored James a 96 and White a 95.

“I need to win without a seed of doubt,” White said. “That’s what that run was all about in the [U.S.] Open. For me, I had to get that run, and it was over.”

White yearns for such situations, which simply can’t be replicated training alone.

That brought to mind a training run in Calgary this past season. White was riding in the bitter cold, struggling with the YOLO Flip 1440, when he saw six children approaching the halfpipe.

“Hey are you Shaun White?” they asked him.

White confirmed and said, “If you guys cheer, I’ll do a really cool trick for you.”

“It built a pressure scenario for me,” White said later, showing the video on his phone. “And I crushed it. That was the best I landed it the whole night.”

As far as 1440s go, both of White’s biggest rivals suffered major crashes in March.

Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov, the 2014 Olympic champion who invented the YOLO Flip 1440, tore his ACL at the world championships.

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist, fell at the U.S. Open. White believed Hirano lacerated his liver and suffered a concussion, though Japanese media reported liver and MCL damage.

Canadian slopestyle star Mark McMorris suffered a life-threatening crash in March as well.

White said all of their injuries have weighed on his mind, though he plans to keep riding beyond PyeongChang. The risks and ups and downs are part of this sport.

White is familiar from his own experiences, especially in the last four years. And from this past season, coming back from the ankle surgery and X Games struggles to land the best run of his career.

“If I would have walked in, just kind of breezed through every event, maybe I wouldn’t have had the motivation I’m feeling now,” White said. “Maybe I might be like, oh, I got it in the bag. And you don’t ever want to feel that way until it’s the day of.”

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VIDEO: Watch Shaun White, at age 15, just miss 2002 Olympic team

Iouri Podladtchikov tears ACL at world championships

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Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov tore an ACL at the world championships on Saturday, less than 11 months ahead of his Olympic title defense in PyeongChang.

Podladtchikov, known as I-Pod, suffered the injury falling hard on his knee and head in his last of three runs in the final in Sierra Nevada, Spain. Podladtchikov ended up with silver behind Australian Scotty James at an event skipped by Shaun White.

“I gave it everything I could in this competition, and that was the right attitude. There is always a risk to get injured, being a sportsman you have to accept this,” Podladtchikov said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “There is a reason for this injury as there is one for everything. I will subordinating everything to my preparation for the next Olympics. I’m already grateful for all the empathy and nice words, and I’m looking forward to be back together with my team.”

Podladtchikov, 28, required ankle surgery in November 2014 but was able to return for that season’s X Games and world championships.

Podladtchikov has not won a major contest since his Olympic title in Sochi. He was third, 12th and 10th at the last three X Games and fourth at the 2015 World Championships.

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