Shaun White’s Olympic career came to a close Thursday without what would have been a history-making fourth medal, but his impact on snowboarding will long outlast the 16-year journey to his fifth and final Winter Games.
The 35-year-old placed fourth in the Olympic men’s halfpipe after falling on what he says was the final run of his career, and a high score of 85.00 in his second run wasn’t enough to put him in medal position.
But White, who announced his retirement from competitive snowboarding, doesn’t regret how his fifth and final Olympic Games ended.
“I’m so proud, I’m so proud of my performance today, what I’m leaving today,” White told NBC 7’s Steven Luke. “And even if I would’ve nailed the run and got third, I would’ve wanted second, I would’ve wanted first, always wanting more that’s just the competitor in me.”
Taking home gold was Ayumu Hirano of Japan, whose high-flying run — at times reaching heights over 24 feet — landed a 96.00, even after some controversy over the judge’s scoring on his second run.
White knows that what he’s leaving behind is room for the next generation of elite snowboarders to grow.
“Im proud to have affected that generation,” White said. “People keep asking me what my legacy in this sport is and I think you saw it today. I think it’s Ayumu and Scotty (James of Australia) and these amazing competitors putting down dream runs, and I’m proud to have affected them and Im hoping to cheer them on from here on out.”
White was 19 years old when he first came onto the Olympic scene in 2006 with long, bright red locks and high-flying tricks that garnered him the nickname, “The Flying Tomato.”
Over the next 16 years, White consistently broke records and defied laws of gravity. But at 35 years old, the three-time Olympic gold medalist was almost double the age of some of the riders this time around.
He struggled through the qualifiers, taking a tough fall in his first run while attempting his signature trick, the Double McTwist 1260. White landed all his tricks the second time around, putting him in fourth to advance to Thursday’s medal round.
The tricks get harder with age and, as the competition advances, so do the tricks young athletes attempt to complete. Hirano, for example, had just become the first athlete to ever complete a triple cork — a move that eight years ago sent White in the hospital.
Younger snowboarders acknowledge that it is because of White that those moves can be attempted.
“I think his legacy speaks for itself just in the field of riders here. His influence is huge in all these runs,” U.S. Olympic snowboarder Taylor Gold said.
“It’s funny, every year it seems like people put a cap on it. There are people that think ‘This is the end of the progression, no one’s going to do more than that.” And then you see Ayumu do a triple 20-feet out first thing. So, it’s just never-ending, there’s just never going to be a time when we hit a ceiling.”
For Shaun White, that means it’s time to bow out from the competitive sport he called “the love of his life,” a decision that came to him while he was on a chairlift over an empty mountain.
“I’m not looking at it from today, I’m looking at it as a whole and I’m so proud,” he said. “I can’t wait for what’s next, finally have some time to do the things I’ve always wanted to.”