Shaun White is more than a snowboarder - he is an icon of his sport, dabbles with life in a band, thought about skateboarding at Tokyo 2020 - but recently, there were doubts about whether he would have a chance to go for a fourth Olympic gold medal.
Having taken a three-year break from competition after winning halfpipe gold at Pyeongchang 2018, it looked like Beijing 2022 might be one step too far for the legendary athlete.
But at this month’s Laax Open in Switzerland, White delivered when it finally mattered, achieving a first podium spot in five years by finishing third. It kept the dream alive ahead of selection for Team USA - and with it a chance to build on his record breaking haul of three Olympic snowboard golds, more than any other athlete in his sport.
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It was surely a relief for White, who has consistently gambled on taking long periods away from competitive snow after each Games he has competed at, though this was his longest. By doing it at this stage of his career - now 35 - there were questions about whether he could get his best form back. At two World Cup events in the States, he had finished eighth and 12th - far down from the high standards he sets himself.
He shut those suggestions down in Switzerland, delivering his signature double McTwist on his first run in the final, before holding himself back in the second run having already done enough. The performance showed that White probably has more to give and the display will surely give him confidence with just weeks to go until the Games.
White has always been a huge star in the US but in the past few years, he has mainly been drawing attention in the gossip columns. His relationship with actor Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) has made him one half of one of the most famous and followed celebrity couples on the planet.
But over the next month or so, it is all about what is surely going to be his final Olympic dance - and it is remarkable that he has got this far at all. White will know this is a young athlete’s sport but he has bucked the trend by heading to Beijing in his mid-30s.
So what can White achieve when he gets to China? There is no doubt that he has an aura which adds an extra few percent of intimidation when he comes up against his rivals. But despite being the only snowboarder to win three Olympic gold medals - the first of which at Turin 2006 - he will head to the Games as an underdog.
Japan’s Ayumu Hirano will be the halfpipe favourite - he also won the Laax Open - as he looks to upgrade from the two silvers he had to settle for behind White at Pyeongchang 2018 and Iouri Podladtchikov at Sochi 2014, when the American did not win a medal - the only black mark on his Olympic copy book.
Hirano also managed to achieve something White could not last year, when he competed in the inaugural Olympic skateboarding competition at his home Tokyo Games. It was an aspiration which his older rival called time on early in 2020. Despite being a five-time X Games skateboarding champion, White’s discipline - vert - was not included in the Olympic programme and he could not adapt competitively enough to the park format.
Back on the snow, White will get an opportunity to bow out on his own terms, having been close to missing out. After that, he will face the challenge of finding something to do next - because he feels it is time to hang up his competitive board.
"I haven’t really said this too much, so it’s going to feel weird coming out of my mouth, but this is, I think, my last run," he told NBC’s Today ahead of the Games.
"So it’s hard to talk about because my whole life I’ve kind of been looked at as somewhat superhuman because I do these things.
"And man, realising and admitting to myself and everyone else, yeah, I’m human. It’s taken a toll."
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