Iouri Podladtchikov
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Iouri Podladtchikov stretchered off after X Games crash

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — 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.

Video is here.

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.”

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Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo. If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.

Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Back in August, Iranian Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the IRNA news agency reported. He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.

Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticized the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel).”

“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in exercise salon,” Zareian said. “After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”

He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Jacarra Winchester, after foe bites her, wins first wrestling world title

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Jacarra Winchester missed the Rio Olympic wrestling trials after tearing her knee playing soccer. She missed a medal at the 2018 World Championships after a semifinal-winning takedown was reversed.

There was no denying her on Wednesday.

Winchester, who picked up wrestling a decade ago as a high school junior, became the first American to earn a medal at the worlds in Kazakhstan this week. And it was gold.

She came back to beat Japanese Nanami Irie 5-3 in the final of the 55kg division, a weight class that is not on the Olympic program. Winchester must move to 53kg or 57kg next year.

But for now she can celebrate quite a journey. At 26, she’s one of the older wrestlers to become a first-time world champion. She believed she had what it took last year, when a reversed call kept her from the final and she subsequently lost a bronze-medal match.

Winchester, who has problems sleeping, said she replayed the end of that semifinal in her head ever since.

“There’s no reason why I should have gotten beat,” she said Wednesday. “Clearly I have what I need on the mat. I just need to change my mindset. … Just knowing you’re the best, pushing yourself and not letting anything get to me.”

That helped in Tuesday’s semifinals, where Winchester said her Turkish opponent bit her, pulled her hair and twisted her fingers. Winchester, who grew up in the Oakland, Calif., area, said that when she started wrestling she had no Olympic goals.

“I had a mindset of I’m not a quitter,” she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Adeline Gray reached Thursday’s 76kg final, where she will try to become the first American to earn five world titles.

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