Shaun White will try to defend title
ASPEN, Colo. -- If Shaun White is to win his sixth straight Snowboard SuperPipe gold medal Sunday night at X Games Aspen, he'll have to do it from an unfamiliar position.
White qualified second Thursday night, one-third of a point behind Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov, whose second-run 87.33 trumped White's conservative first run down the Buttermilk pipe.
That means Podladtchikov will drop in to the SuperPipe last in the final, a coveted position almost exclusively occupied by White in years past. White had a chance to reclaim the lead Thursday night but instead coasted down the pipe without hitting a jump, his fist raised high in the air. He left the venue before anyone had a chance to interview him.
Podladtchikov, meanwhile, had no idea he'd beaten White until a reporter at the bottom of the pipe informed him. Still, he wasn't putting too much stock in the result given the challenge that lies ahead Sunday night.
"He gave it to me," Podladtchikov said of White. "It's just qualifiers; it's never going to happen in finals. He just does it to make you media guys go crazy."
Neither of the two favorites (Podladtchikov finished second to White last year and in 2010, and won the FIS world title a week ago) showcased his full potential in the snowy conditions, opting to save their best for the ultimate stage Sunday night.
White's run included a 19-foot, 2-inch backside air to start, nearly 3 feet higher than anyone else. He also landed frontside and cab double cork 1080s but didn't showcase either of the double-cork 1260 variations he used to earn a 100-point score in last year's final.
Podladtchikov, too, said he was saving a mystery trick for Sunday, one he's never tried on snow.
"I feel like it's going to work," he said. "I think I'm going to try it Saturday. It's going to be dangerous."
If the Russian-born Podladtchikov, known around the snowboarding world as "I-Pod," can unseat White, it will be the first time anyone has beaten the two-time Olympic gold medalist in 12 contests, a stretch spanning three years. White is trying to win his ninth career X Games Aspen SuperPipe gold medal.
New Hampshire's Scotty Lago qualified third with an 82.66 on his second run, finally landing the frontside double-cork 1080 that opens his run but has plagued him all season.
From the teenage set, 14-year-old Japanese phenom Ayumu Hirano -- who weighs just 116 pounds yet soared 16-6 out of the pipe -- also made the final in sixth.