Shaun White placed fourth in his final snowboard competition at the Beijing Olympics on Friday morning, concluding a 20-year career that included five Olympics and a contest record that may never be surpassed.
Ayumu Hirano of Japan, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, won gold after hitting the sport’s most advanced performance, which included a triple cork. Scotty James of Australia claimed silver, while Jan Scherrer of Switzerland got bronze.
With a best score of 85.00, the 35-year-old American and defending gold medallist placed fourth in the men’s halfpipe, his final ever event.
After stumbling on one of his landings in his first run, White scored an 85.00 on his second attempt. For the time being, this put him in second position, but he was dropped down after good runs by Ayumu Hirano and Scotty James.
On White’s third run, he struck the halfpipe lip on his second jump, eliminating his chances of a medal. He needed a 92.50 to move into first and an 87.25 to get into the top three.
While White did not win this competition, he demonstrated that he is still among the greatest in the world. His second run was long, smooth, and technically sound. It featured a front-side double cork 1440 and his famous double McTwist 1260, earning him the highest finish by an American rider in the competition.
White went all out in his final run, attempting the double cork 1440 combo that won him gold in PyeongChang. On the second 14, he crashed, and as he rode to the pipe’s bottom, he removed his helmet and hoisted it high aloft.
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“That’s it,” White murmured to James as tears welled up in his eyes near the finish area.
He had only ever come fourth in an Olympic competition once before, in Sochi, but this fourth felt different. White lingered longer than normal at the bottom of the pipe, perhaps recalling two decades of recollections.
The spectators in attendance stood as he moved to the media area, expressing their admiration for a rider who was always willing to take risks.
“It’s difficult for me not to get hung up on that last run because I really wanted it,” White said. “However, I’m proud of the runs I’ve put in. I’m honored to be here for my final farewell.”
Because it wasn’t White’s victories, or even his spins, that made him a worldwide celebrity. The style he won and the personality he demonstrated after the competitions concluded were what drew popular attention to the rider known as The Flying Tomato.
White was never happy with merely winning, whether he was participating in the Olympics or a Grand Prix. Even when he was in the lead, he pushed himself to better his previous score if he had a run left in the game. He tried new feats and combinations that he’d never done before, and he utilized victory laps to bring new maneuvers to the sport.
White’s determination maintained him at the top for longer than some of his opponents had lived. However, he remained hungry as a result of his losses.
Before the 2002 Winter Olympics, Sports Illustrated for Kids published a preview edition featuring a 15-year-old White on the cover, certain that he would be the Games’ face. The agony of missing out on the Olympic squad by one slot propelled White to an unbeaten season in 2006, when he made his Olympic debut and won gold.
He described his gold medal as “the ultimate parking permit” in a post-Olympics interview with Timesread, and claimed the nicest thing about winning gold was the free beverages on the journey home.
When the reporter asked White, barely 19 at the time, to explain, he joked, “I’m talking about Mountain Dew, baby.”
Grandmas in Florida who had never seen snow or heard the phrase “stoked” were suddenly familiar with White’s name, or at least his long-forgotten moniker. He appeared in Hollywood films, socialized with A-listers, and performed with his band, Bad Things, at music festivals and late-night television shows.
Shaun White, a one-of-a-kind star in a friends-first sport, was never the most popular rider in competition snowboarding, but he has long been the most renowned snowboarder on the planet.
The victories and spins, on the other hand, won White respect among his colleagues, as did his tenacity to get back up after large falls and continue to study and perform the most advanced routines well into his 30s.
A global network of sporting greats, including David Beckham and Kelly Slater, wished him luck on social media before his final battle on Friday.
“It’s been such a pleasant journey to get this extra round, to be here, to see these young boys compete,” White said. “I’m grateful to be here and continue participating, and I’m happy of my fourth place finish. For me, the future is quite exciting.
There are so many things I want to do in my life. There’s so much more to do, so much more to live for, and this is only the beginning.”
White’s adorable nickname and long, crimson locks are now a thing of the past. At 35, he sees himself as the owner of a snowboard firm that can help a new generation of riders. Fans of snowboarding will not remember him for falling on his final competitive run. He will be remembered for the attempt though.