Life is good for Iouri Podladtchikov these days. The man nicknamed I-Pod has made a rapid ascent to the top of his sport. He won silver in snowboarding halfpipe at the past two Winter X Games and gold at last year's world championships. But he really made his mark at the 2014 Olympics, winning gold by completing a move that he calls the "YOLO flip," which knocked off defending champion Shaun White.
It's been a month since he rose to Olympic glory, but the 25-year-old Swiss national is still beaming. On a recent visit to the SI Kids office in New York City, he happily chatted for an hour about his Olympic experience, his biggest influences, and where he plans to keep his gold medal.
You won gold, so it's safe to say you had a great Olympic experience. But how would you describe the atmosphere there?
For me it was very special because I'm Russian-born and I could connect with the people more than the rest of the field. The staff and everyone that was involved had read that I was this Russian kid that grew up in Switzerland, and they were all rooting for me. It's just so gnarly — it was like a gift. Everyone wanted me to do well, and with it working out, it came together for them, too.
You've had a great run over the past year. What's next?
People ask me, "How long are you going to keep doing this?" It's a really simple answer for me: As long I'm progressing, as long as every year I look back and I feel like I'm much better, that's the essence of my motivation. I love to say that this year my average height was this much higher, my spins were that much more perfect. As long as I can do that, and as long as I'm confident that I can do better, I'll definitely keep doing it.
What was the biggest breakthrough you made in the past year?
My biggest improvement was based on vert skating. I rented out a vert ramp. There were no vert ramps in the area where I grew up, so I had to make a big investment. That really made the difference. You can't really do as many mistakes on a skateboard on a vert ramp as you can on a snowboard. On snow you slide, you have a much bigger board. Focusing on skateboarding more made my snowboarding a little bit cleaner, a little bit more solid.
Does skateboarding help with creativity as well? You can do tricks on a skateboard that you may not have thought were possible on a snowboard. But when you see that you can do it on a skateboard, it inspires you to try it on a snowboard.
Definitely. They both push each other. Sometimes I see snowboard tricks that would make things easier in skateboarding, too. Last year, I had another influence that also made a big difference, and that was watching [surfer] John John Florence's movie [The Life]. I have rarely seen an athlete be so in control with his body. It was so inspirational. He was so in control and his body was in complete harmony — it looked like a super power. Watching that made me say, Wow, I want to snowboard like he surfs.
What's the rivalry like with you and Shaun White?
It's very healthy. We both have known each other for a while now. We respect each other and are open about it in the media too, which I think is very healthy too. I don't like negative energy. I don't want to be surrounded by it and I don't want to create it. I never expected him to say anything good about me [after the competition]. I'm really surprised he did because from a strategic point of view, it's very courageous. I have to be that way because I'm looking up to him, but he doesn't have to give me props at all. So from that perspective, I'm grateful.
Where are you going to keep your gold medal?
People are telling me that I should put it on display. I was thinking of putting it in a bank.
But then you can't look at it.
I would like to keep it in a place where it's not in my face every day. The medal has this energy. When they hang it around your neck, it really fills you with ambition. You hold it in your hand, and you realize how much work it took to get it. You want to go further. I don't want to be like that every day — I need some off days. And I feel like if I'm looking at it, I can't stand still. I have to run.
Photo: EPA/JENS BUETTNER /LANDOV, Cameron Spencer/Getty Images