Olympic Gold Medalist Iouri Podladtchikov: The New Prince of Halfpipe

by Esther Hershkovits
Russian-born and Swiss-raised Iouri Podladtchikov has been on the competitive snowboard scene since he was 12 years old. And now, thirteen years later, the 25-year-old recently won the gold medal in the Olympic halfpipe competing for Team Switzerland, taking down the reigning two-time champion, Shaun White. While in town, the Olympian stopped by PAPER HQ to talk about athlete cliques in the Olympic food court, Tinder, and snowboarding's unusual scoring system.  

How was Sochi?

It was pretty impressive to be honest, especially the Olympic park.

Was it impressive? I heard it wasn't well built?

Yeah I think that was just people trying to make it look bad. A lot of people pushed the bad news out as much as possible, but I didn't have a bad experience at all.

No problems with the bathrooms?

No! [Laughs] There were a lot more volunteers than I've seen at the past Olympic games I've been to. You hear about how much it cost and you see what they did with that money -- I was impressed.

How were these games compared to the last ones you went to in Turin and Vancouver?

It was a lot more fun for me because I speak Russian, and of course because I won. My whole family was there including lots of aunts and uncles who never come out to events so that was very special for me.

In your first Olympics you actually competed for Russia, right? Why did you switch to competing for Switzerland?

It's really simple: I was growing up in Switzerland and I didn't get much support from the Russian team. It was kind of a pain to organize things with them because they were in Russia and I was in Switzerland and so the vibe was always weird. I didn't have a good relationship with the coaches or staff either.

So it wasn't weird when you went to the Swiss team?

No, totally not. Nobody blamed me for it, actually, because they knew that I didn't really get much support from the Russian team. They're not big in snowboarding.

When you heard it was in Russia did you ever consider going back to the Russian team?

They tried to convince me but there was never a real offer. And I have a good relationship with my coach on the Swiss team.

When did you do to celebrate after you won?

The first night was more taking pictures than actually celebrating. It was still really nice because all my family and relatives were there with me.

Did you celebrate with all the athletes or just the snowboarders?

Just with my family and the Swiss team. It's really split up because [halfpipe is] such a huge event. But people interact in different ways -- you all eat at the same places. The food court at the Olympic village is where you meet the most new people from different villages and different sports, but I didn't go there after I won. I was mostly at the house [where my family was staying].

Is it cliquey in the food court? Do people only sit with their teammates?

Yeah they do and it is [cliquey] but some people like going around and saying "hi." At the same time you have to remember everyone has an Olympic event coming up that is the most important competitive event of their lives and you don't want to be the person that's just, like, a tourist going around saying "Hello, Hi, my name is this and that." People are serious.

Do rivalries play out in the food court like they do on the playing field?

I didn't pay much attention to that. When I walk into the food court I look for food or pretty faces. It's like anywhere else -- you walk in and think "Oh she's hot" or "This guy's fat." It's the same as anywhere else.

Are there fat people at the Olympics?

[Laughs] That's a good question. I'd say not "fat" but for example, the bobsled teams are fuckin' huge. They don't all look super sporty.

Since you mentioned pretty faces earlier, we're always hearing about how much sex goes on over there -- was it really crazy?

You know, as an Olympian I also read about that and I kept looking for weird couples or stuff like that but I didn't see anything -- like, nothing. I was pretty disappointed.

What about Tinder? Were you on it while you were there?

Yeah, I tried but there were not many people using Tinder. I didn't have any matches in Sochi unfortunately.

There was a lot of criticism of Shaun White during the Sochi games. What did you make of all that?

I think it's bullshit.

What about the debate between style and big flips?

I think that's also bullshit -- it's just a never-ending story. They've always been talking about that.

So you don't think snowboarding should go in one direction or the other?

Well there's only one direction and that's to make it look good. You can have both style and flips. The people who can't pull that off are the ones who started this conversation. They're sitting around on their couch all day eating popcorn and one day they decide flipping is not stylish. You can do a stylish triple cork -- we've seen it, it's been done already.

How is snowboarding scored?

They call it 'overall impression' they kind-of just make up the score and there's no system. It's all bluffing. You see at the Olympics one judge will give [a rider] an 82 and the next a 92 -- the scores are so far away from each other because there's no system.

Because how do you judge snowboarding anyway?

Exactly, exactly! That's a good question. Write that down -- "how do you judge snowboarding?"

Do you plan on going back to the Olympics?

I think so. It would be kind of cool to go back and try to defend the medal.

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