Shaun White is already finding it "tough to say goodbye" as he embarks on what he says will be his final Olympics.
The most decorated snowboarder in U.S. history checked in with TODAY Friday as he took a train with his Team USA teammates from Beijing's National Stadium to one of the athlete villages following the fifth opening ceremony of his Olympic career.
The 35-year-old remains a medal hopeful in the men's halfpipe in Beijing, but the three-time gold medalist doesn't see himself pushing for a sixth Winter Olympics in Italy in 2026.
"It’s tough to say goodbye," White said. "I think it’s my last. The more I talk to people, they keep trying to inspire me to keep going, but I’ve had an amazing run, and I’m so thankful for everything I’ve achieved, and ready to pass the torch on to the next generation."
White's record-setting Olympic career stretches all the way back to when he was 19 years old in 2006 and won gold in the halfpipe.
"It’s pretty wild," he said. "I started looking around and I noticed that a lot of the coaches and judges, a lot of them used to compete with me. Some of the members even on the U.S. team here, I’m 13 years older than them. It’s cool to look back and remember and be thankful that I’m still considered one of the best and have a real shot at this Olympics."
White will battle much younger competitors like Japan's Ayumu Hirano, 23, and Yuto Tatsuka, 20, as well as Australia's Scotty James, 27, for gold in Beijing.
"I remember pulling up to the first competition and I thought the competitors might be stand-offish, and they weren’t," White said. "They were like, ‘I used to play your video game. I love you. Could I get a photo?’ I’m like, ‘OK.'"
The younger generation has followed White in advancing the sport since its Olympic debut in 1998. White pushed the sport with tricks like "The Tomahawk" at the 2010 Olympics and consecutive 1440s — a move that consists of four complete rotations — to win gold in 2018.
"It's wild," White said. "The halfpipes keep getting bigger, (and) the tricks are getting more intimidating every single time. It's great, you see this young generation really pushing the limits of what's possible.
"It's funny because my friends are giving me a hard time because they're like, 'Well you kind of started it.' They're like, 'They're just taking it from where you began a lot of these tricks.' It's nice to see and it's pushing me to do things that I never thought possible."
Adding a new wrinkle to the competition in Beijing is that it will be the first Winter Olympics to use almost 100% artificial snow. However, the early reviews of the halfpipe are promising.
"The snow is super grippy here,” Australian snowboarder Matt Cox told Reuters. "Also ... because usually when you get to man-made snow and you rip into an edge, for instance, it slides out on you pretty easily, but with the cold temps here, it’s dreamy snow.”
There also is the ever-present worry for athletes about testing positive for COVID-19 and having four years of training go up in smoke when they can't compete. White shared last month that he tested positive for the virus in December and had to withdraw from a qualifying event.
"Honestly, it was a bumpy road getting to these Olympics ... a lot of unexpected turbulence," he said. "Looking at the other side of it, I'm so thankful Covid didn't affect me like it's affected so many. I'm honestly just so thankful to be here, feeling healthy, body is feeling great, and I'm ready to put on a performance."
Like all the other athletes, White will not be able to have his family and friends cheering him on in Beijing due to restrictions. He shared that his girlfriend, Nina Dobrev, made "an incredible video" featuring all his friends wishing him luck as he left for Beijing.
"I wish she could've been here," White said. "She was trying her hardest to sneak in somehow. She's been so supportive and so wonderful, really just in my corner every step of the way.
"I'm missing everyone, but I definitely feel their love and support from afar."