American snowboarding legend Shaun White broke down in tears after his last ever competitive run at the Beijing Olympics on Friday, saying he was grateful to be leaving behind a legacy for the next generation of professional riders.
White’s name has been synonymous with the sport ever since he first dropped in on an Olympic halfpipe 16 years ago and won gold at the age of 19.
Now 35, White has come far from his younger competition-obsessed days when fans nicknamed him the “flying tomato” for his long red locks.
“I’m so thrilled to turn the page,” the snowboarder said on Friday, holding a black and white board designed by his own company.
“I don’t want to beat these guys anymore. I want to sponsor them,” he told reporters after Friday’s final.
White was the oldest snowboarder at the halfpipe final, going against formidable younger competitors like Ayumu Hirano, who won gold after landing a triple cork in his final run.
Australian Scotty James took silver, while Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer took the bronze. White, a triple gold medallist in the event, missed the podium and ended up in fourth place.
But it was White who received the loudest applause of the day.
The entire crowd gathered at the Genting Snow Park roared after he landed his third and final run of the final, ripping off his helmet and goggles to burst into tears.
“It’s my last day ever, it’s so weird to say,” he said as his rivals came over to comfort him.
Quebec snowboarder Max Parrot wins 1st Olympic gold after cancer battle
The five-time Olympian said he always felt he had something to prove in an event that was misunderstood in its early days and often not taken seriously as a competitive sport.
But on Friday, surrounded by the next generation of riders, White said he could see his legacy take shape.
“All my fellow competitors were so kind, a lot of them patted me on the back and told me that the tricks in the sport wouldn’t be where it is today without my pushing and I want to thank them for having me and supported me and let me do my thing,” he said tearfully.
Japan’s Hirano said White’s presence at the Games sent an inspiring message to all athletes.
“It’s not about the results, the fact that he was here, there is a bigger message in that,” the 23-year old boarder said.
White has already been busy building a luxury snowboard and lifestyle company called Whitespace and told reporters on Friday he would be involved in training the next generation of athletes.
“This is the last time I have to be stressed on my snowboard,” he said.
(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Mari Saito, additional reporting by Jenna Zucker, editing by Richard Pullin)