It was the moment that separates the greats from the legends. Shaun White stood at the top of the Sochi halfpipe, the final competitor of the competition, needing a flawless run to win gold and become the first American to ever win the same event at three straight Winter Olympics. White was the top finisher in morning qualification, but fell twice on his first run in the finals. This was his final shot.
Only, the moment wasn't quite the same one faced by other great athletes. The Sochi halfpipe had been heavily criticized in the lead-up to the event due to uneven grading, bumpy paths and warm temperatures. White tried to be magnanimous about it after his practice sessions, but his frustration was clear. The greatest snowboarder in history staring at a subpar course was like Michael Jordan taking a final shot into a basket without a net, Michael Phelps racing for gold in the diving well or Muhammad Ali asking Joe Frazier to step outside for a title fight in an alley.
Whether it was the condition of the halfpipe or the memories of all those devastating injuries since Vancouver or just an athlete having an off day at the worst possible time, White didn't live up to the moment. He finished his conservative run without falling, but two stumbles left him off the medal podium, as judges scored him a deserving, perhaps generous, fourth place.
Shaun White's dominance of halfpipe wasn't the only thing that ended on that slushy halfpipe in Sochi. In the four competitions since the event debuted in Nagano, Americans had won eight of 12 medals, including three straight golds. They were shut out in 2014. The course is likely to bear the brunt of the blame.
But the conditions didn't affect Iouri Podladtchikov, the Swiss boarder known as I-Pod. His run was flawless. As he was celebrating, it was hard not to notice his shaggy hair, which looked a lot like White's old Flying Tomato mane.
Tuesday's disappointment does nothing to affect Shaun White's legacy, nor does his controversial decision to withdraw from the slopestyle event. He's still the greatest snowboarder in the history of the sport and one of the all-time great American Winter Olympians. What the fourth-place finish does is prevent White from reaching that highest tier in the upper echelon, the one reserved for those very rare athletes like Jordan and Phelps who were able to finish their careers seemingly always coming up big when it mattered the most.