KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – In the moments after he lost, almost unbelievably, on his sport's biggest stage, Shaun White didn't have to look far to see his impact. It was there on the podium, a testament to the legacy he has created beyond gold medals.
White did not win a third consecutive Olympic gold at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on Tuesday, and he did not make history. He finished fourth, the only time he has gone to the Games and failed to earn a medal.
When it wasn't enough — the tricks that had taken months to develop and a film to chronicle, the run that wasn't the ideal one he planned in his head — White hugged Iouri Podladtchikov, who had finally figured out the only way to beat him was White's way.
"Me and Shaun, we were always thinking of pushing the next trick. What's going to be the next thing (where) people are going to think, 'What was that?'" said Podladtchikov, as elated as White was when he first won gold at 19.
"I felt OK winning, because I was also that guy. I was also the guy that was going for it. Not just him. Usually it's just Shaun throwing himself out there."
To be sure, White would have rather had a gold medal. It would have forever etched him in the history books as the first American man to win a winter event three consecutive times.
But he can take solace in knowing he helped lead the riders to the top of the podium.
Podladtchikov respected, if not idolized, White while he was growing up, despite only a two-year age difference. To beat White, he had to be like him — execute technically difficult tricks with style.
Tuesday, it was a trick that sets the two riders apart that won Podladtchikov a medal. To take gold, he used a YOLO flip (or switch front-side double cork 1440) in a run with three consecutive double corks.
"I think Shaun and I feel kind of special, just for that reason," said Podladtchikov, who was born in Russia before moving to Switzerland with his parents at 8. "We're at that level of the sport that we're doing things that no one else is doing."
For his part, White landed the same trick but faltered as he finished his run down the pipe. He fell on his first run, forcing him to alter his plan.
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As he usually does, White had hoped to post a high score on his first run, see how his competitors fared and debut something new in his second run.
After Podladtchikov spent 20minutes talking to reporters, White said he still had tricks left in his pocket.
"I had a specific run I wanted to land and I didn't get to put that down, so that's one of the most frustrating things for me," he said. "If I land my run and get beat, I'm OK with that. I definitely didn't get that chance tonight, and it happens."
White's influence over the sport where his celebrity has drawn attention to snowboarding extends beyond the first-time gold medalist.
Japanese silver medalist Ayumu Hirano, 15, doesn't necessarily count White as an idol as Podladtchikov might. But the amplitude White gets requires other riders to go just as big to beat him.
Hirano and teammate Taku Hiraoka boosted out of the pipe, and Hirano is the rider closest to White in that regard.
"I think it's a sign that, yeah, there's other good snowboarders out there," American Danny Davis said. "There's a lot of good riders in this halfpipe. Iouri shined tonight, and then some of us others didn't. Ayumu's riding really good this whole week."
Coming into the Games, Podladtchikov and Hirano were expected to challenge White for a medal. But that expectation always came with a caveat, one that said White was the best competitive snowboarder ever and deserved the benefit of the doubt.
Other challengers have come throughout the years — Davis, Kevin Pearce, Mason Aguirre and Louie Vito among them. Until Tuesday, none had done what Podladtchikov, Hirano and Hiraoka could — beat White the way he showed how.
"The tricks that I've learned getting ready for this competition I think will carry on for the next couple years within the sport," White said.
"I went for big tricks that only Iouri and myself are doing. I could have played it safe, I guess, and try to get a decent score, but I wanted to win. I came here on a mission. It just wasn't my night."
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