It all ended here, on a snowy slope on an unnamed mountain in China, and the only surprise was that 35-year-old Shaun White had no other trick. I have worked on such things.
His last trip in the Olympic half-pipe came after a fall. He jumped to his feet and took off his helmet, lifting it into the air. Slither down the hill slowly, into a warm embrace of adulation and head off into the unknown.
Riding at the fifth and final Winter Olympics, in search of his fourth gold medal, White placed fourth.
“I am proud of the life I lived, what I did in this sport, and what I left behind,” he said then, during a long series of interviews in which he swung from laughter to tears and back again.
His eyes, which were as red as the shaggy hair on his head and a light days-old beard on his cheeks, blazed again when he was asked about his inheritance.
“You watch it—these little riders,” White said. “They’ve been following me every step of the way, and seeing them finally get past me, I think deep down, is what I’ve always wanted.”
He’s seen three riders outrun him, no more than Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, the 23-year-old two-time Olympic silver medalist who’s been a miniature reflection of the Whites for years.
Hirano had his first Triple Threat in a full round of competition, and when the score was just below Australian Scotty James, he did better again.
Hirano with 96 points in the final round of the competition won the gold medal. James, 27, a skinny Australian who has been at the forefront of the sport for years and won a bronze medal four years ago, took the silver ahead of Swiss Jan Scherer.
“I should finish my collection in four years,” James said, cracking a smile of disappointment. “I have a lot of motivation.”
White hugged Hirano.
“It’s your turn,” he said.
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