It all came to an end here, on a tilted chute of ice on an unnamed mountain in China, and the only surprise was that 35-year-old Shaun White did not have one more trick in him.
Riding in his fifth and final Winter Olympics, searching for his fourth gold medal, White finished just shy of a medal in men’s halfpipe.
White’s solid but unspectacular opening run scored 72, putting him fourth of nine competitors. He got within reach of a possible medal on his second run, scoring an 85 that moved him briefly to second place. But Scotty James then scored a 92.5 to take first and knock White back to fourth.
On the third run, Ayumu Hirano, of Japan, landed an epic run with a triple cork, earning a 96 and the gold medal. James, of Australia, took silver, and Jan Scherrer, of Switzerland, won the bronze.
White fell on his third run, quickly got to his feet, took off his helmet and slid slowly into the warm embrace of cheering fans, knowing they had just seen the end of something.
“I always want more, but that’s ok. I did what I could do,” he said, adding with a laugh. “It’s done. I’m so relieved.”
His laughs turned to tears as he thanked his family, his fans and snowboarding.
“I’m proud of this life I’ve led, and what I’ve done in this sport and what I’ve left behind,” he said. “I knew the day would come, but to finally be here is pretty wild.”
White will end his Olympics career — unless he changes his mind on Italy in 2026 — with three gold medals (2006, 2010, 2018), two fourth-place finishes (2014, 2022) and a lifetime of icon status.
He had hoped to plant a big run in his first attempt, to put pressure on his competitors and give himself room to try to elevate even higher in rounds 1 and 2.
The competition promised to be high-flying, and it was. A strong Japanese contingent had eyes on spinning their way to the podium, led by three Hiranos — Ayumu (a two-time silver medalist), Kaishu (his little brother) and Ruka (no relation).
James, a lanky Australian who has led the world circuit in recent years, came in search of an elusive gold medal. Taylor Gold, the American veteran who fought years of injuries after his 2014 Olympic appearance, brought his technical, old-school style, hoping judges would award ingenuity, not just rotations.
But the focus was on White. He had called this a farewell tour, though it was unclear if it was him saying goodbye to competitive snowboarding or fans saying goodbye to him. Both, probably. Either way, it was not an exhibition, and White was granted no favors. White earned his way to the Olympics, after a long season of injuries, Covid and doubts. And then into the final.
He seemed re-energized, and relieved, to have made it through qualifications on his second and final run — drama, always drama — knowing that he would leave the sport still in the most elite class.
Beginning in Turin 16 years ago, through Vancouver, Sochi and Pyeongchang, White ended up on a nondescript mountainside more than 100 miles northwest of Beijing to make his final rides. There were more reporters and cameras gazing at him than fans, the grandstands mostly empty because of 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.