It all came to an end here, on a tilted chute of ice on an unnamed mountain in China, and the only surprise was that 35-year-old Shaun White did not have one more trick in him. He had made a career of such things.
His final ride down the Olympic halfpipe on Friday came after a fall. He popped onto his feet and took off his helmet, raising it to the air. He slid downhill slowly, into the warm embrace of adulation and off toward the unknown.
Riding in his fifth and final Winter Olympics, searching for his fourth gold medal, White finished in fourth place.
“I’m proud of this life I’ve led, and what I’ve done in this sport, and what I’ve left behind,” he said afterward, during a long slog of interviews in which he swung from laughter to tears and back again.
His eyes, as red as the tousled hair on his head and the days-old stubble on his cheeks, welled up again when he was asked about his legacy.
“You’re watching it — these younger riders,” White said. “They’ve been on my heels every step of the way, and to see them finally surpass me is, I think deep down, what I always wanted.”
He had witnessed three riders who surpassed him, none more than Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, the slight 23-year-old and two-time Olympic silver medalist who has been a miniature reflection of White for years.
Hirano landed the first triple cork in a completed run in competition, and when the score fell just short of Australia’s Scotty James, he did again, better.
Hirano’s 96-point ride on the competition’s final run won him the gold medal. James, 27, an Australian who has been at the forefront of the sport for years, and who won bronze four years ago, earned the silver medal ahead of Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer.
“I’ve got to finish out my collection in four years,” James said, braving a smile through the disappointment. “I’ve got a lot of motivation.”
White gave Hirano a hug.
“It’s your turn,” he said.