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Shaun White closes out Olympic career without another trip to the podium

The oldest halfpipe rider in Olympic history said he hopes to have inspired the next generation of snowboarders.

Snowboarder Shaun White, the face of modern winter sports, closed out his Olympic career Friday in Beijing without adding another medal to his collection.

White, 35, of Carlsbad, California, finished off the podium in the men's halfpipe final Friday morning at Genting Snow Park.

White, in fourth place in the third run, landed a 1440 but fell on the next trick, ending his chances at a medal in what he has said are his final Games.

He took his helmet off and held it aloft as he rode to the end, giving a wave to applause.

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano scored 96 to take gold, overtaking Australia’s Scotty James, who won silver. Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer took bronze. 

White fought back tears later as he reflected on the moment and his career.

“A lot of emotions hitting me right now. There’s the cheer of the crowd and some kind words from my fellow competitors at the bottom,” White said. “I’m so happy.”

“I just want to thank everybody for watching. Everyone at home: Thank you. Snowboarding: Thank you. It’s been the love of my life,” he said.

He added Friday during an interview on NBC's "TODAY" that competing in his last run was "bittersweet."

"You know it was a mixed bag of emotions," White said. "I remember thinking, I’ll never have to be stressed about getting these runs in anymore. I’ll probably be watching this from somewhere really warm."

But "nothing makes you feel as alive as" competition, the Olympian said.

He said Friday that, of course, he would have liked to medal.

“I wished my final run was a little more outstanding, you know I still had some tricks to do and I was so close to the podium,” White said. “But you know if I would have gotten third, I would have wanted second, If I had gotten second, I would have wanted first.”

White remarked on the progression of the sport, one now filled with top snowboarders who were children when he won his first Olympic gold.

“I can’t wait to see where this sport goes, it’s getting wild,” he said.

White added that he was happy for Hirano, who has come close to being at top of the podium with two silver medals — most recently behind White in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.

“And to watch him nail that run. Incredible. I’m proud to stand and cheer him on from here on," White said.

Hirano, in the last run of the contest, launched to Olympic gold with a run that included a triple cork.

White, who recently announced that this would be his fifth and final stint as an Olympian, leaves the sport with three gold medals over five Olympic appearances.

He had previously soared to the top the podium in Turin, Italy (2006), Vancouver, British Columbia (2010) and PyeongChang (2018). He finished fourth in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

White punched his ticket to Friday morning’s final with a fourth-place finish in qualifying. He had to rebound from a disastrous crash in his first run that suddenly put his gold medal defense in jeopardy.

“Everything was clicking, and I think I just I took that little laxed approach to that last hit and next thing I knew I was sliding on my back thinking, ‘What happened?’” a relieved White said shortly after he made the final.

To casual followers of the sport, introduced to the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, White is the only male champion they’ve ever known.

Sporting wild red hair in his early career, White was hailed as the “Flying Tomato,” a nickname he begrudgingly embraced but sponsors and fans lapped up.

He has maintained popularity despite settling a sexual harassment lawsuit from Lena Zawaideh, a former drummer in White’s rock band, Bad Things.

White, the oldest halfpipe rider in Olympic history, said he hopes to have inspired the next generation of snowboarders.

“I’m just enjoying every single moment,” he said shortly after the opening ceremonies. Referring to his competitors, he said: “Everyone catching up. There are incredibly talented riders out there, and I feel like I had a helping hand to inspire them.”