Shaun White’s Final Olympic Goodbye ends with a 4th-place Finish in Beijing 

ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA — On his final Olympic showing, Shaun White bent down to one knee, set his snowboard on its edge and raised his left hand toward the sky. “Three out of five. Not bad,” White said of his Olympic record, which ended with a fourth-place finish in Beijing, China.  Over the past 20 years, four to five dozen crowds have been going to watch him snowboard on a wild ride to the Olympics and beyond, despite the pandemic era.  Most of them knew him personally, grew to love him or had followed him faithfully throughout his noteworthy Olympic journey. They all cheered for White. Moments later, after working his way through a few more people who just wanted to touch him Friday, Shaun watched as his Olympic crown, now worn by Ayumu Hirano of Japan, rode away from the halfpipe for the very last time.  The telltale melancholy in his voice could be heard as he stated, “I’m not sad,” even though his tears and the stifled sobs indicated that this party is truly over.

This bittersweet day of riding ultimately ended in a fall, causing White to come one spot shy of a medal. Now this was nothing to be ashamed of, considering all of the massive tricks he performed in what surpassed the previous Olympics as the most progressive halfpipe contest ever. No, it was not exactly what he had hoped for and dreamed of, given what he’d been through over the past few months. Still, White is the legend who, almost singlehandedly, made it look cool to ride for big money, big trophies and Olympic medals in snowboarding, a sport that took decades to come to terms with that worldview.

“I’m proud of what I put down,” White said. “And I can’t help but think if I had hit the podium in third, I would have wanted second. And if I’d gotten second, I would’ve wanted first. It’s just the fighter in me, and I’m always hoping for more.” At age 35 now, this final run was Shaun’s attempt to perform the same five tricks that won him his third gold medal, four years ago in Pyeongchang, China.   “My leg, in my run, was just giving out on me, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, of all the days to have this happen,’” he said.  On his third and final run of the day, the final run of his career, he fell on the second of two-straight double-cork, 1440-degree jumps he was trying to execute.

Four years ago, at age 31 in South Korea, Shaun achieved it for the first time ever and he finished first. This fourth-place finish, thanks to an earlier run that was a tad less difficult, matched the other just-off-the-podium result he got during his frenzied trip to the Sochi Games in 2014. “Three out of five. Not bad,” White said of his Olympic record.   This felt more like a victory than a loss for the world’s most famous rider, and for snowboarding overall.

During Shaun’s 90 minutes of post-contest interviews, he spoke fondly of the sheer delight he felt as a child when his mother entered his classroom, holding the brand-new snowboard that had finally arrived for him. Reminiscing, White spoke about Jake Burton Carpenter, one of his most ardent backers, who met White as a young kid. “He’d probably give me a big hug, tell me how proud he was and say, “All right now, enough is enough.’”

Fierce competitors were considered cool when Shaun White entered this sport in the early 2000s.  “I was just a goofy redheaded wonder, referred to as “The Flying Tomato” because I flew higher than anyone else.  This made me marketable well beyond the hope of performing any halfpipe. This is how I took the lead in snowboarding, a lead that not everyone appreciated in real time.”

Shaun always wanted to prove himself. Many people thought he was just throwing his life away by focusing on a sport that, when he started, wasn’t even accepted on every mountain in America. “Well, I had something to prove, since my sport was pretty misunderstood,” White said as he choked back tears. “Everybody kind of thought I wasn’t really going to amount to much in my lifetime, in my career.” Hah! How wrong they were. In the reality of sports, there are only a rare few who are the greatest in their games. Even they don’t always get to ride away into the sunset holding a trophy, or with a gold medal hanging from their neck.”  Besides, everyone in attendance agreed that White and the rest of the guys put on one outstanding show.  “Everybody’s been asking me what my legacy in this sport has been,” Shaun said as he peered up the now-empty halfpipe, a canvas he once dominated. “I’m like, ‘You’re watching it.’”  Way to go, Shaun White, way to go!




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