- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - The “Yolo” tormented Iouri Podladtchikov for the better part of two years, starting from the moment he stumbled upon snowboarding’s latest innovation while practicing near his home in Switzerland.

One leap off the 22-foot halfpipe. Two spins. Two 360-degree turns. Three harrowing seconds of flight. One very tricky landing. Podladtchikov knew it was the logical step in the sport’s unending search for the Next Big Thing.

Nailing the “Yolo” - at a contest to win a medal, or just messing around at home - became the overriding goal for the magnetic 25-year-old they call “I-Pod.”

At an X Games competition in the French Alps last winter, Podladtchikov conquered his nemesis. Twisting to get the final rotation to stick, he jubilantly rode it out and continued down the pipe.

The fact he botched his final trick on that run and finished fourth didn’t matter. He threw his board into the stands in giddy celebration, later calling it the defining moment of his career.

Such breakthroughs define the battle extreme sports such as snowboarding and freestyle skiing have with competition - call it glory vs. gold. In disciplines built on freedom of expression and self-exploration, creating singular moments are just as important as standing atop a podium with a medal around your neck.

“The competition at the Olympics is one day,” said American freestyle skier Ashley Caldwell. “They’re both very, very up there. I want to win, but pushing the sport is cooler.”

Podladtchikov ended Shaun White’s reign atop the halfpipe with the run of his life on Tuesday, winning an Olympic title with a near flawless ride down the slushy halfpipe at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. He stamped his victory with that “Yolo,” a trick that drew gasps from the crowd and provided a jolt in a contest that was a mixture of sloppy and robotic.

“It felt like there was no fighting at all,” Podladtchikov said. “It felt like it was all meant to be. It was really weird, a position where I’m throwing down my hardest tricks with ease. There is no word for that.”

While Podladtchikov’s dethroning of White provided one of the first real upsets of the games, it’s the “Yolo” that will resonate long after the NBC lights have turned elsewhere.

“It’s so fun seeing somebody get a look in their eye and knowing it’s time to push it and go into the darkness and do something we haven’t seen,” Canadian rider Crispin Lipscomb said. “Then the entire competitive field draws up into that energy and it’s contagious and it’s exciting. That’s what our sport is about. Doing a thing no one did for the high-five of the group.”

Slopestyle skier Keri Herman of the U.S. remembers bombing out during a run at the X Games last year. Ask her for the details and she can only recall landing a trick during that same run that “terrified” her.

“I got sixth and I was like, “I don’t care, did you see what I just did?’” Herman said.

It’s a notion common in all the action sports, from the aerialists who leap four stories into the sky, like a “Cirque du Soleil” on skis, to the slopestylers who slide and soar down a mountain disguised as an amusement park.

A dozen years after the games in Salt Lake City, few remember that Janne Lahtela of Finland won gold in moguls. It’s the “Dinner Roll” - a 360-degree barrel roll turned by 1998 Olympic champion Jonny Moseley - that lives on.

Though Moseley finished fourth - mostly because judges didn’t quite know what to make of a jump that wasn’t even permitted in competition until shortly before the games - the innovative trick changed the trajectory of the sport

“I got into freestyle skiing at Salt Lake City watching Jonny Moseley do the ‘Dinner Roll’ and I’m all stoked,” said current American slopestyle skier Bobby Brown. “I never thought slope would be in. I never thought pipe would be in.”

Canadian Alex Bilodeau, who became the first freestyle skier to win consecutive golds when he crushed the field in men’s moguls on Monday, is already petitioning the sport’s governing body to allow competitors to start taking moguls to the next level.

“Our sport is evolving,” said Bilodeau, who drops double back flips in practice at speeds of 30 mph, even though they’ve been deemed too unsafe to allow in competition.

“We need to get our inspiration from here, there and everywhere,” he said. “We’ve been fighting a lot through the years to get double flips added. It would be great.”

Jeret “Speedy” Peterson spent a large portion of his career bringing “The Hurricane” to the masses. Packing five spins and three flips into one balletic and frenetic jump, Peterson carved out his own place in freestyle history when he landed the trick in 2006. He finished ninth that year, then used the same jump to win a silver medal in Vancouver four years later.

Podladtchikov’s winning run melded his originality with precision, earning the highest of compliments from rival Danny Davis. The soulful American, whose old-school moves are leading a push to take snowboarding back to its roots, called Podladtchikov’s acrobatic routine “incredible.”

It seemed, Davis said, to find a moment when the origins of the sport - the glory - and the reality of life as a professional rider - the gold - peacefully converged.

“We’re all just snowboarding you know,” Davis said “Sometimes there’s some athletic warfare in our sport, but all is well.”


AP National Writer Eddie Pells and AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.

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