Snowboarder Shaun White ranks fourth in halfpipe in last Olympic competition, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano wins gold

Shaun White finished fourth in his final snowboarding competition in the men’s halfpipe on Friday morning at the Beijing Olympics, capping a 20-year career that spanned five Olympics while amassing a competition record that only may never be eclipsed.

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, clinched gold by landing the most progressive run in sports history, including a triple cork. Australian Scotty James won silver while Swiss Jan Scherrer took bronze.

Although White didn’t win this one, he proved he was still one of the best in the world. His second run was big, clean and technical. It included a double cork 1440 up front and his signature McTwist 1260 double and was good enough for the best finish by an American rider in the contest. On his final run, White went all out and attempted the double cork 1440 combo that won him gold in Pyeongchang. He crashed on the second 14, and as he climbed to the bottom of the pipe, he took off his helmet and held it high above his head.

“That’s it,” White told James in the finish area with tears in his eyes.

He had only finished on the podium once in an Olympic competition, in Sochi, but this fourth was different. White lingered in the bottom of the pipe longer than usual, two decades of memories probably crossing his mind. As he made his way to the media area, the fans in attendance stood up and showed their appreciation for a runner who always went for it.

“It’s hard for me not to hang on to that last run, I wanted it so badly,” White said. “But I’m proud of the races I’ve done. I’m proud to be here for my last goodbye.”

Because it wasn’t White’s wins – or even his tricks – that made him a world star. It was the way he won and the personality he displayed at the end of the contests that convinced mainstream fans of the pilot they called The Flying Tomato.

Whether he was competing in the Olympics or a Grand Prix, White was never satisfied with just winning. If he had a point left in a contest, even if he was in the lead, he would push himself to beat his previous score. He attempted tricks and combos he had never landed and used victory tricks to introduce new tricks to the sport. This drive has kept White at the top longer than some of his competitors have been alive. But the losses kept him hungry.

Before the 2002 Winter Olympics, Sports Illustrated for Kids ran its preview issue with a 15-year-old white man on the cover, certain he would be the face of the Games. When he missed the team by one spot, the sting led White to an unbeaten season in 2006, when he finally made his Olympic debut and won gold. In a post-Olympic interview with CNN, he called his gold medal “the ultimate parking permit” and said the best part of the gold medal was the free drinks on the flight home. When the reporter asked White, only 19 at the time, to clarify, he joked, “I’m talking about Mountain Dew, baby.”

Suddenly, grandmothers in Florida who had never seen snow or used the word “stoked” knew White’s name, or at least his long-dead nickname. He made appearances in Hollywood movies, hung out with A-list friends, and performed with his band, Bad Things, at music festivals and on late-night shows. A singular star in a sport focused on friends, White was never the most popular rider in competitive snowboarding, but he was for a long time the most famous snowboarder in the world.

The wins and tricks, however, have earned White the respect of his peers, as has his willingness to pick himself up after big crashes and continue to learn the most progressive tricks – and do them in style – all the way into the thirties. Ahead of his final competition on Friday, a global network of sports greats like David Beckham and Kelly Slater wished him luck on social media.

“To get this bonus round, to be here, to see these young guys compete, it’s been such a nice process,” White said. “I’m really grateful to be here and to keep competing and even to be fourth, I’m proud of that. The future for me is so exciting. There are so many things I want to do in my life. So much to do, so much to experience, this is just the beginning.”

These days, the cute nickname and long scarlet locks are a thing of the past for White. At 35, he looks to the future as a snowboard business owner with the potential to support a new generation of riders. That he fell on his last competitive run is not how snowboarding fans will remember him. They will remember him, instead, for the attempt.

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