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It all ended here, on a tilted icefall on an unnamed mountain in China, and the only surprise was that 35-year-old Shaun White no longer had a ride in him.
Competing in his fifth and final Winter Olympics, seeking his fourth gold medal, White finished just short of a medal in the men’s halfpipe.
White’s strong but unspectacular first run scored 72, placing him fourth out of nine competitors. He came close to an eventual medal in his second run, scoring an 85 that briefly moved him into second place. But Scotty James then scored a 92.5 to take first and push White back to fourth.
In the third round, Ayumu Hirano of Japan landed an epic run with a triple cork, winning a 96 and the gold medal. James of Australia took silver and Jan Scherrer of Switzerland took bronze.
White fell on his third run, quickly stood up, removed his helmet and slowly slipped into the warm embrace of the cheering fans, knowing they had seen the end of something.
“I always want more, but that’s okay. I did what I could do,” he said, adding with a laugh. “It’s done. I’m so relieved.”
His laughter turned to tears as he thanked his family, fans and snowboarding.
“I’m proud of this life I’ve led, what I’ve done in this sport and what I’ve left behind,” he said. “I knew the day would come, but finally being here is pretty wild.”
White will end his Olympic career – unless he changes his mind about Italy in 2026 – with three gold medals (2006, 2010, 2018), two fourth places (2014, 2022) and a lifetime of icon.
He had hoped to plant a big run on his first attempt, put pressure on his competitors and give himself room to try to rise even higher in rounds 1 and 2.
The competition promised to be high-flying, and it was. A strong Japanese contingent aimed to fight their way to the podium, led by three Hiranos – Ayumu (double silver medalist), Kaishu (his little brother) and Ruka (unrelated).
James, a lanky Australian who has ruled the world circuit in recent years, came in search of an elusive gold medal. Taylor Gold, the American veteran who battled years of injury after competing in the 2014 Olympics, brought his old-school technical style, hoping the judges would reward ingenuity, not just rotations.
But the focus was on White. He had called it a farewell tour, although it was unclear if he was saying goodbye to competitive snowboarding or if the fans were saying goodbye to him. Both, probably. Either way, it wasn’t an exhibition and White didn’t get any favors. White won his way to the Olympics, after a long season of injuries, Covid and doubts. And then in the final.
He looked re-energized and relieved to have passed qualifying in his second and final race – drama, still drama – knowing he would leave the sport still in the most elite class.
Beginning in Turin 16 years ago, passing through Vancouver, Sochi and Pyeongchang, White found himself on a nondescript mountainside more than 100 miles northwest of Beijing to make his final journeys. There were more reporters and cameras watching him than fans, with the stands mostly empty due to the pandemic. But there were countless people watching on screens around the world, including White’s family and friends in and around his native San Diego.