Competing in the final contest of his long and storied career, U.S. snowboarding legend Shaun White bowed out with a fourth-place finish, just missing the podium at his fifth Olympic Winter Games.
The sport's elder statesman laid down a strong second run in Friday's halfpipe final, cleaning up a trick that gave him trouble earlier to score an 85.00. But Switzerland's Jan Scherrer's 87.25 ultimately held for bronze, dealing White an identical result to his finish in Sochi eight years prior, just 2.25 shy.
"It's been a journey, I'm just so happy, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart," White said, crying. "Snowboarding, thank you. It's been the love of my life … The future for me is so exciting, there's so much I want to do in my life. So much to do, so much to live for, this is just the beginning for me."
The 35-year-old concludes his career a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a 13-time Winter X Games champion and a six-time World Cup event winner.
Japan's Ayumu Hirano, silver medalist at the last two Olympics, finally got his gold by stomping historic triple corks on each of his three runs' first hits. He scored a 96.00 on his last run to seal the victory.
"I'm so happy for Ayumu [Hirano], to watch him nail that run. Incredible," White said. "That was the run of a lifetime for him and to nail it, I'm so proud for him … I feel it for Scotty, I know he's happy with second but I know he wanted gold."
Upon finishing his final run, White was greeted by a number of competitors congratulating him on an incredible career. Afterward, more praise poured in from podium finishers.
"So much respect for Shaun," James said. "He's an incredible, talented athlete. It was really cool to see him compete at his last Olympics, it was pretty special."
Ayumu Hirano, who was 3 when White won his first X Games medal, said, "Shaun's been challenging as he's always been, he's the oldest here and he's always showing me things I can't experience yet. He's always been my motivation and I think [these Games] w[ere] a big challenge for him as well."
"Everyone else who was riding today grew up looking up to him as a huge idol," Scherrer said. "When I was 15, he was just so much better than everyone else, and I feel he was probably the most dominant snowboard character in competition ever."
White began his first run with a big frontside double cork 1440 but had a little trouble on his next hit, landing a cab double 1080 attempt on the heel edge of his board. He recovered with a sky hook, a signature double McTwist 1260 and nailed a frontside double 12 to end the run strong for a 72.00.
He cleaned up the routine on his second run, upping the front double 14 with a ton of speed before a crucial stick of the cab double 10. In cruise control, he closed with another sky hook, double McTwist 12 and frontside 12.
In Run 3 with the pressure on and the lingering possibility of a triple attempt, White fell on his second hit – an attempt at a cab double cork 1440 – to put a bow on his career, and rode down the center of the pipe holding his helmet high.
"I would have loved to put [the last run] down … I was having some difficulty in my back leg for some reason, it was giving out on every run, I don't know why," White said. "I would have loved to walk out there with everyone, for one last time, but you can't always get what you want, you get what you need."
The snowboarding icon told TODAY last month that this would likely be his "last run," then confirmed the decision at a pre-Games presser. He said he realized it was time during a surreal moment while alone on a chairlift watching the sun go down.
White took more than three years off from competition following his victory in South Korea. He began the 2022 U.S. Olympic qualifying period just off the Aspen podium in fourth, then took eighth at Copper and seventh at Dew Tour before landing a third-place finish at January's Laax Open to essentially seal his monumental fifth Games berth.
The Carlsbad, California, native just missed making the 2002 Olympics at 15. JJ Thomas, now his coach, was the rider who took that team's last spot.
Four years later, White made his Olympic debut at the Torino Games as a mop-haired 19-year-old and was subsequently dubbed "The Flying Tomato" due to his long red hair, a nickname he'd later quash out of pure annoyance.
White, wearing an American flag bandana over his face, got off to a slow start in qualifying but bounced back to earn the highest score. Then in the final, he reeled off consecutive 1080s and a pair of 900s to take a commanding lead. With none of his competitors able to top him in their second runs, White was free to take a victory lap through the pipe.
Ahead of Vancouver, rumors swirled about a private halfpipe in Colorado exclusively built for White. It was there, in a place only accessible by helicopter, that White secretly dialed in his newest tricks, including the double McTwist 1260, or "Tomahawk."
All that training paid off for him, and he locked up the victory on the strength of his first run. Able to take a victory lap, White decided to go for the double McTwist 1260, now his signature trick. He landed it, capping off his performance with an exclamation point and winning his second straight gold medal.
White arrived in Sochi with high expectations for a three-peat. But competing in a pipe that featured less-than-ideal conditions, he could not put down the run he wanted. After crashing on his first attempt, White couldn't land his new trick – the cab double cork 1440 – cleanly on his second run and finished off the podium in fourth.
Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov, a good friend of White's, executed a clean version of that same trick during his run to help propel himself to a gold medal.
White didn't disappoint in his return to Games competition. He led qualifying and opened up with a 94.25 first run after James threw down a 92.00. Ayumu Hirano, 19 at the time, fell on his first run but followed up with back-to-back double cork 1440s for a 95.25.
With the last drop-in of the competition, White put on one of the best shows of his career, landing back-to-back combos of 1440s himself to score a men's Olympic halfpipe best of 97.75 and secure his third gold, coincidentally Team USA's 100th Olympic Winter Games title.
NBC Olympics Research contributed