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FM Outage 10/07/2022

Look back at the McTwists and turns of Shaun White's golden snowboarding career

Shaun White trains before the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull
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AP
Shaun White trains before the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China.

Shaun White said farewell to his storied Olympic career Thursday evening ET, proving that at 35 he's still among the world's elite snowboarders. He finished off the podium, but he remains the only snowboarder to win three Olympic gold medals.

The man who fiercely shreds halfpipes openly shed tears on the snow, saying he was proud of his effort despite falling short in his attempt to win a fourth gold medal.

"A lot of emotions are hitting me right now — the cheering from the crowd, some kind words from my fellow competitors at the bottom. I'm so happy," White said after his final run in the Beijing Games. "Snowboarding, thank you. It's been the love of my life."

White celebrates with a teammate after he won the gold medal in the men's halfpipe final at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
White celebrates with a teammate after he won the gold medal in the men's halfpipe final at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

This was White's fifth Winter Olympics, and they've always ended in one of two ways: a gold medal or a fourth-place finish. That's the nature of his all-or-nothing sport, where athletes push themselves to land the latest gravity-defying trick, or be outdone.

White competes during the men's snowboard halfpipe finals at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics.
Joel Klamar / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
White competes during the men's snowboard halfpipe finals at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics.

Since his Olympic debut at the Turin Olympics in 2006, White has been able to call on an extra gear, to summon a monster run when he needs it most. But the sport has grown with him, literally: the Olympics' halfpipe walls were 18 feet high in 2006, but were then raised to the current 22 feet. That's nearly twice as tall as they were for the halfpipe's debut at Nagano in 1998.

White takes the podium after winning the gold medal in the men's snowboard superpipe at Winter X Games 14 at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo. in 2010.
Doug Pensinger / Getty Images
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Getty Images
White takes the podium after winning the gold medal in the men's snowboard superpipe at Winter X Games 14 at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo. in 2010.

White has been an innovator, performing tricks in competition that once were thought impossible. He created the Double McTwist 1260 — it "combines three-and-a-half twists and two flips," the Olympics explains. Because of the danger, White practiced using huge pits of foam.

At the Beijing Games, it was another trick — one which has eluded White — that decided the competition: the triple cork 1440. Japan's Ayumu Hirano landed it multiple times on his way to the top of the podium. In simple terms, the trick comprises three diagonal flips. But that undersells it a bit: the triple cork "entails spinning four full rotations while simultaneously inverting three times," as NBC Sports says.

For White, the triple cork is the one that got away. He was trying to learn the trick in 2013, when a horrible crash sent him to the hospital. White then put the trick on the back-burner. Along with the multiple injuries he's dealt with, White faced sexual harassment allegations during the #MeToo movement. When asked about the allegations in 2018, White initially said he wouldn't discuss "gossip." But he later apologized for that remark, and he said that he regretted his past behavior.

White competes in the snowboard men's halfpipe final at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Cameron Spencer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
White competes in the snowboard men's halfpipe final at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

After his final run in his final Olympics, White embraced the power of the moment Friday, taking in the scene and speaking to journalists about what it all means.

White poses during the medal ceremony for the snowboard men's halfpipe final at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Andreas Rentz / Getty Images
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Getty Images
White poses during the medal ceremony for the snowboard men's halfpipe final at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

"It's done and I'm so relieved," he said. While acknowledging his struggles to record another jaw-dropping run, White added, "I did what I could and I'm proud of fourth."

"Obviously I would have loved to have third," he added, "and then if I would have had third, I would have loved to have second. I always want more as a competitor, but I'm proud. I'm leaving behind a lifetime and a career in this sport and a legacy."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.