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SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 11: Shaun White of the United States waits for his score in the Snowboard Men's Halfpipe Finals on day four of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Snowboarding giant Shaun White may have just missed the Olympic podium at the men’s halfpipe final in Sochi Tuesday, but his family back home in San Diego is extremely proud of him – gold medal or not.
Four years ago in Vancouver was a good day for White. At those Olympic Winter Games, he became the two-time defending gold medal champion in one of the most popular events of the games.
That day was a lot better than Tuesday, when the two-time champ landed in fourth place at the 2014 Sochi Games in a down-to-the-wire halfpipe event that left him feeling extreme disappointment.
In San Diego, White’s aunt, Patricia DeLeo, watched the event on the edge of her seat.
“It was tough to watch. Usually, he makes a terrific first run,” DeLeo told NBC 7 San Diego Tuesday.
Watching her nephew grow up in Carlsbad, DeLeo said she knew White’s potential long before most fans.
“He’s always been such a natural on the board. He’s just so comfortable,” she said.
That innate ability and athleticism is why Twitter was buzzing with messages of support and surprise about what happened in Sochi Tuesday.
White fell on his first run of the final round. His last run was only enough to finish in fourth place, missing the medal stand entirely.
But the lack of a gold medal doesn’t change the way DeLeo feels about her nephew.
“We’re shocked, but we’re not disappointed or anything like that because he’s amazing,” she said.
White’s former teacher, Katy Heritage, seconds that sentiment.
“[I’m] very proud of him. I’m still bragging about him,” Heritage said Tuesday.
At White’s former school in Carlsbad, pictures of him are still hanging on the walls. Olympic win or not, Heritage said White is still a role model and one bad day on the snow won’t change that.
“It’s probably a very sad day for him but we like him still,” she said with a smile. “He’s still our hero.”
So, what next for White? Will the images of his win in Vancouver four years ago be the last time fans see White hold Olympic gold?
Knowing White, DeLeo certainly doesn’t think so.
“I think he will [earn a gold medal again]. I think this will just motivate him even more, knowing Shaun,” she said.
Either way, she said White has nothing left to prove to his family, friends or fans. She plans to show him that when he comes home.
“I can’t wait for him to get home and to give him a big hug,” she added.
DeLeo told NBC 7 that she spoke to her sister, White’s mother, in Russia Tuesday morning following the halfpipe event. She said the family was emotional but doing okay. As of Tuesday morning, they had not been able to speak directly with White.