An emotional Shaun White said there was “no agony, just happiness” after the snowboard legend missed out on a medal at the Beijing Olympics on Friday in his farewell appearance.
The three-time Olympic champion from the United States finished fourth in the men’s halfpipe, falling on his third and final run with a medal up for grabs.
But the 35-year-old said he was “in awe” of what he had achieved in the sport and “proud” to leave it to the next generation of riders, including new Olympic champion Ayumu Hirano of Japan.
“Everybody was asking me what my legacy in the sport has been and I’m like ‘you’re watching it’,” said a tearful White, stopping often to compose himself as he spoke to reporters.
“These younger riders have been on my heels every step of the way and to see them surpass me is I think deep down what I always wanted.”
White has been the face of snowboarding since he burst onto the Olympic scene as a 19-year-old at the 2006 Turin Games.
He won gold in the halfpipe in 2006 and 2010 before missing out on a medal in a shock upset at the 2014 Sochi Games.
But he regained his crown four years later in Pyeongchang with a dramatic last ride, which he described as his “legacy performance”.
He has struggled in recent years and announced last week that the Beijing Games would be his last competition, citing the “little signs” from his ageing body.
He is nearly half the age of some of his rivals.
White said it was “harsh” not to go out with one last medal but described winning three Olympic golds from five appearances as “not bad”.
“I can’t help but think if I would have hit the podium in third I would have wanted second,” he said.
“And if I had got second I would have wanted first. It’s just the fighter in me, always wanting more.”
White was in fourth place going into his final run and a vintage performance would have catapulted him above Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer into the medal positions.
But he fell midway through his run and looked subdued as he slid into the finish area with tears in his eyes, before getting a huge round of applause.
He called snowboarding “the love of my life” and said he had been “on a mission” since he got his first board.
“Nobody thought I was going to amount to much in my life and in my career,” he said.
“To feel this need to prove myself and do it over and over and over — I’m just so proud of that, every step of the way.”
White said he was “so relieved” to be free of the “stress” of competition and hinted he still has a part to play in the sport.
“I don’t want to beat these guys any more — I want to sponsor them,” he said.
“Not to sign them or whatever but to help their career, to help guide with my experiences and what I’ve learned.”