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"There is a new czar in the halfpipe! Iouri Podladtchikov takes gold!" It's already been a few weeks since Switzerland's I-Pod took down the two-time defending champion Shaun White in the men's snowboarding halfpipe, but it's just the beginning of the spotlight for the new world champ. In his third Olympics, Podladtchikov performed in front of the country where he was born and took home top honors by putting together a run that only he and one other person in the world could complete.
Last week, the 25-year-old was making the U.S. rounds in New York City and stopped by the Complex office to talk about the experience. He probably didn't expect to end up talking about soup, how babies smell, needles, and "Bohemian Rhapsody," but that's just the direction the conversation went. Check out the full transcription below or watch the shortened interview above.
Interview by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
How do you like New York?
I like it. It's an adventure everyday here.
What’s life been like since you won the gold medal?
It’s been a little bit more stressful but in a good way. It’s a lot of people, a lot of positive energy surrounding me, which is nice. People come and congratulate you, and it’s all positive vibes.
Has it changed at all as far as how you look at yourself?
I’ve asked myself that question. You look in the mirror and you’re like wow, you’re going to die as an Olympic gold medalist now. It’s definitely a different feeling from what I felt before. The Olympic games have such a big history and winning it is, like, not too many people get to have that experience, so that makes you feel kind of special.
What was Sochi like?
It was cool. For me it was more cool than for other people because I speak Russian.
You speak four languages right?
Yeah, and I really love Russian food, because it’s like mama’s food. The whole experience was amazing, and although we had a little bit of trouble with the course, the rest was amazing. The weather was amazing. The people were really excited, and all that energy coming together makes you excited to be a part of it.
You said it was kind of like mama’s cooking. What’s your favorite?
My favorite Russian food is a kind of a dumpling called pelmeni or the classic soup borscht. It’s a classic beetroot soup.
There were a lot of reports about the conditions of Sochi. Was it as bad as it looked?
No, people really tried to make it look bad for some reason, just cause there are bad people out there. It was crazy how many volunteers they had. It seemed like it was three times more than everywhere else. I’ve been to Vancouver three years ago and [Sochi] really seemed so big. When I visited Olympic park, I’ve never seen anything like that before; it’s just huge. It looked like a futuristic city to me, especially with the Black Sea in the background. It’s just amazing.
What were the ceremonies like walking in front of your original country?
I think it was kind of cool, because last time I went to the opening ceremony, I fell asleep. And when I told people that, they were like, "what, how could you fall asleep? The opening ceremony is so beautiful." Well, I was tired or just not really feeling it. This time I was feeling it a lot more. It was really exciting. It’s just a totally unique experience. You walk in with all these athletes from all over the world. It’s just a beautiful image.
Last time I went to the opening ceremony, I fell asleep. ... This time I was feeling it a lot more.
Let’s talk about the run. You’ve landed the YOLO flip before, so how were you approaching this run differently than the X games run?
I made it a little bit more difficult than the X games run with the back double in the middle of the run, which I didn’t do at X games. And a different approach. I was a little bit less nervous for the YOLO flip, because I did a couple of mistakes at the X games that stopped me from landing it. I looked at those so many times and we went and had a session on my trampoline back home, just to see in the middle of the trick what you have to look for or where to put your arms and stuff. It's kind of essential on controlling such a big trick.
I looked at all the issues, why it didn’t work out, and then for some reason, I felt way more confident in Sochi. At the X games, I was still a bit concerned of making it around. The snap of the trick is really hard to get, the snap and the timing. The bigger the trick is, the smaller the time is for that perfect snap.
When you landed the trick in Aspen, it was almost like you surprised yourself. You missed the final trick in that run because you said you lost your legs. When you hit it this time, were you thinking about it?
The original plan was no sixth hit, just because the bigger the tricks and spins get, you lose space. I was surprised still having that much space, because other people were doing five hits. They didn’t have as much space for another sixth hit and that was kind of special on that run. I had landed everything so clean and rode the line perfectly over from one side to the other with no speed checks or anything. It looks like I rode out, but I’m not sure what would have happened if I would have gone full speed onto the sixth hit. It would have been really, really close to still make it in. I just didn’t want to go for that risk.
Did it ever cross your mind to tweak the YOLO flip to make it even more difficult for the Olympics?
The only different idea I had was to mirror it to the other wall, but I wasn’t at that point yet, unfortunately.
Next time, right?
Did the name have anything to do with Drake?
No, it had nothing to do with Drake.
Had to ask.
Yeah, I've had this discussion before. Basically in snowboarding, a couple of grabs have really, really funny names like stalefish or roast beef. Like, why is there a Japan grab? I wanted to call it something annoying and funny. I don’t think that a lot of people think that it's actually funny 'cause the meaning of the word YOLO is kind of serious, but I wanted to make a joke.
Do you listen to Drake?
There are a couple of songs that I really like, but it's not my type of music. I listen to a different type of music, more like Daft Punk and less rap music. But I personally can’t say anything bad about him.
When you saw the final scores for everything, you gave Shaun White a big hug. Did you think he would be annoyed by that at all?
Yeah, I was afraid that he would be kind of pissed at me trying to do that but it didn’t come out that way, so I’m kind of happy.
Do you have a relationship with him?
Yeah, we’re friends. We hang out.
I’ve heard from other snowboarders that they don’t exactly like him because he kind of segregates himself and keeps to himself. Do you see any of that?
Yeah, definitely. It's tough. It's a competitive world out there and Shaun White kicked everybody’s ass at 14. It's kinda hard to like him for most people who got their ass kicked, and he didn’t want to split prize money. All those stories are just stupid. That's just his way of dealing with it, just keeping to himself, and I think it's totally fair.
If I was him I wouldn’t want to hang out with those people either. There's no real reason to be that much against him. I don’t like to be surrounded by negative energy, so maybe he's the same. Maybe all the attention has a lot of negative energy, with people looking for that little thing that's wrong. This is just how he gets around it. And look at different famous people in different categories; there are so many who don’t make it, they're just in an out of rehab. Some just can’t handle it. I think Shaun doesn’t get enough credit for how well he handles his fame. I think that should be said.
You've said you'd cheer for Shaun but you wouldn't cheer for other people. Why is that?
That’s true. It's really simple: He's pushing the sport by trying new tricks. We all saw his video-- his behind-the-scenes thing where he’s trying triple corks. You see him fall on a triple cork and that really defines Shaun’s character. He’s got all the money, he’s got all the facilities, he can get himself everything he needs to snowboard as long as he wants to, which nobody else can. But then again, if the other 99% of the riders had the money, I don’t see them trying to progress and push the sport as much the way he does, killing himself out there. And does he have to? No. Do you have to go for all that? Do you need the triple cork? Nobody else is trying triple corks. Nobody has the facilities to try them. Why would you?
I think that his character is gnarly. He stands up and chooses not to go spend all his money and have a great time. He's spending all his money on trying the gnarliest tricks out there that nobody else is trying and putting everything out there on the line. He could have easily gotten hurt a lot worse than what happened on that try, and taking that risk has got all my respect.
The Japanese kids were just doing nines and tens, and we all do that in our sleep for years now. There are a couple of tricks that I’ve worked on and Shaun has worked on that only we did in competition. It just feels kind of bad if you can’t land it and somebody else who’s not even trying it is winning. It just feels bad. It feels wrong.
But you have to give them some credit. You're 10 years older than the 15-year-old.
But then again, I wouldn’t have been happy seeing him win because he was doing nines and tens. That’s my whole point.
The Japanese kids were just doing nines and tens, and we all do that in our sleep for years now.
So it’s kind of more on principle.
That’s my whole point. Are you going for a world record here or are you just going for the average best run? Are you trying to do something amazing that the world hasn’t seen yet? 'Cause everyone just keeps talking about his age-- obviously his riding is amazingly balanced and perfectly executed, but tricks-wise there was nothing new and nothing special.
In 2006 you competed with Russia, but it didn’t go very well. What was that experience like?
It was a bad experience. I was already living in Switzerland for a while and I didn’t get much support from the Russian team, unfortunately. I don’t know the reason because I was already progressing really quickly in my sport. I got hurt the day before the contest and they were not happy with me being hurt. I was just lost and alone with no help left or right, no buddies.
Did they force you to compete?
They kind of tried. It was weird, I was like, "there is no way I can move this leg." And they wanted to give me pain killer shots. At that time I was afraid of shots and I didn’t want any, and the whole system was like .... yeah, I grew up in Switzerland and I speak fluently Russian, but I couldn’t cope with the that type of authority from the coaches and people. They tried to tell me when to go to bed and stuff. It was bad. It should be up to me if I should take shots or not. It's my body, my decision. That was a horrible thing, but that's long ago.
Then you switched in 2010 to the Swiss team but still had a bit of a disappointment in finishing fourth. How were was that different from the first time?
For the first one, there was no news. I just fell. It went by really quickly. I didn’t have a chance to make finals anyways. But in Vancouver, I was very much looking to get a medal. Being that close was kind of a horrible feeling.
How have those two experiences led up to this?
I get so excited progressing faster and getting better at what I do. I wasn’t focused on that old stuff, only this. I wasn’t obsessed with winning this time, to be honest. I always wished for it. And I always believed in it, that it was possible, but I wasn’t obsessed with beating Shaun or doing this event. It was really kind of a cool journey learning those new tricks. I actually did one trick that I never did in competition in 2011, which is the double back twist but on the other side.
In an Olympics preview, somebody asked you what you thought about your chances to beat Shaun White. You said that he was on a higher level. What would you say now?
Well, he’s still on his level. I definitely got closer, but I wouldn’t say I could beat him any day. I didn’t get that far yet. I’m on my way and this really worked out and I’m constantly progressing, but the consistency Shaun has with all the experience he has ... like I said, winning everything at 14 already. Of course, sometimes the only thing that counts is who’s more motivated. If two people are really close skill-wise, its not up to who’s the better athlete, it's who’s the more motivated one.
You've said before that fearlessness in snowboarding can actually hurt you. What is something outside of the sport that you're afraid of.
That's a good question. I’m afraid of medicine, to be honest with you. Like, chemistry, anything that tweaks your brain in the wrong way or can fuck with your balance or your organs. That kind of freaks me out. If I had to take antibiotics for some reason, just say as an example, it kind of freaks me out, because it's something you’re doing to your body that you can’t even know what it's going to do with your body. I’ve just seen people take medicine and change, and I’m not even talking about drugs, I’m talking about prescription stuff.
The most driving moment was to meet my niece this year. ... peaceful things really drive me up, when you get to meet people that are in total harmony with themselves.
Have you been put in a situation where you’ve had to take something like that?
Of course, when you have surgery, a lot of chemistry is put in your body and you have to deal with it. Like when I had to fix my collar bone. I’m not afraid of getting a shot, I’m not afraid of taking medicine, I’m just afraid of the effects sometimes.
When you’ve experienced what it's capable of, that makes you a little bit afraid. If it's capable of taking you to that level, especially if your passion is about balance and going as high as you can and not risking your life, it's a weird feeling if you take pain killers and it makes you not feel anything. That just freaks me out.
Switching gears, what would you say drives you as a person. What fuels you?
Wow, a lot of things. Family. The most driving moment was to meet my niece this year. My brother had a baby and that’s definitely fueling. It drives the energy up. Just peaceful things really drive me up, when you get to meet people that are in total harmony with themselves. It drives me up, because I want to get there too, I want to be balanced.
What do you think you still need to do to get to that point?
It's also connected to snowboarding. I like watching people do whatever they do, if it's snowboarding or skateboarding or anything else. If they seem like their background is totally calm, it's just so exciting to watch. For some people, it might be exactly the opposite. Like, people are into horror films, people like to watch different things than I do.
What was it like seeing your niece?
The most amazing thing about that was the smell. I’ve held babies before, but if you hold a direct relative, she smells like us. I’ve lived with my brother and I’ve met his wife before and she smells like us. And that is really crazy. It's logic, but it's beautiful. It's a whole different experience.
What’s your main motivation?
My main motivation is that feeling when you land something. It doesn’t matter if it's a simple trick or a hard trick, it's that feeling of something feeling right. You imagine, let's say a backside air to be like this, and to get as close as possible to your perfect image is what really drives me to snowboard better. You want it to look that way and you look at the video and it still looks so far away from it, but you believing in it makes you want to do it more and more and more and over and over again. And then eventually, you have this full trick. The whole lead up to it, plus the moment in the air, plus how you ride away is the way you would imagine it. Then, if you have that once, it's like an addiction. You want to go out there and only ride like that. Full control. It really motivates me.
So, you're a perfectionist.
I don’t like the word perfection, just so you know. For some reason, it sounds negative. I’m more of a romantic. Perfectionist is so straight, I’m more up and down.
Speaking of being a romantic, your Tumblr is called "Love Me or Leave Me to Die." What is that from?
It's from a Queen song, actually, I’m kind of embarrassed to say this. But all ideas come from somewhere. A really long time ago, I was listening to the "Bohemian Rhapsody" song quite a lot, because I liked the dynamic of it, and somewhere it says, "love me or leave me to die." It just really stayed in my head. That's kind of my motto. But motto is an ugly word, too. Is there another word for motto? Sometimes you can’t be too serious about those things, names and stuff. Just forget about it. Move on.
Do you have anything you'd like to add?
Maybe a little compliment: When I heard I had an interview with Complex Magazine, I was the most excited I’ve been in the past days. A lot of my friends keep posting your stuff, and it's all in my home feed, so I actually read a lot of your stuff. I like it, so thanks for having me.