KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. U.S. snowboardcross riders Faye Gulini and Lindsey Jacobellis are two different athletes with two very different stories.
Jacobellis is widely considered the most accomplished athlete in her sport, but her Olympic gold-medal hopes were dashed once again after crashing in the women’s snowboardcross semifinals Sunday at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. She rebounded to win the small final and placed seventh overall in her third Olympic appearance. Meanwhile, two-time Olympian Gulini advanced as the sole American in the big final and came up just short of the podium with a fourth-place finish — her best result at an Olympic Winter Games.
“I try to treat this event like every other. It just so happens that I win every other event and then it comes around to the one I don’t win, and it happens to be this one,” a collected Jacobellis noted. “I was really happy with how the course was coming together for me. I wasn’t scared — there were a lot of girls who were scared — it just didn’t work out.”
A crowd expecting to see Jacobellis on the podium stood silent at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Yet, those familiar with her Olympic history were not surprised, only heartbroken.
Seconds away from capturing the gold medal at the Torino Games in 2006, Jacobellis grabbed her snowboard off a jump to celebrate, only to fall and settle for silver. Competing at the Vancouver Games, she hit a gate in the semifinals and ultimately finished fifth. The obstacles continued for her in 2012 when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament during a training run at the X Games.
Fast forward to 2014, and she was understandably eager for another shot at redemption.
Today, however, a minor mistake at a turn ended up costly — one that continues her bid for an Olympic gold medal.
“It was really hard to deal with what happened in 2006. I was really young, and then in Vancouver I was getting older and it didn’t work out ,” she said. “There’s a lot you can’t control. Unfortunately, what I could control today didn’t work. I’m upset.”
Gulini echoed a similar sentiment: “I’m heartbroken for her. She loves the sport, and she’s a phenomenal snowboarder. I think she deserves more. She’s put in so much effort and so many hours — she deserves a gold medal.”
Her illustrious career has included 27 world cup wins, 10 X Games medals (eight golds) and three world titles. She returned to the sport in 2013-14 and landed on the podium in three of four world cups, and won her seventh X Games gold medal.
Yet Jacobellis’ resilience has stood out amidst a cloud of disappointment.
“There are worse things in life than not winning. It’s just a race,” she said. “Of course, it’s very unfortunate that this didn’t work out. I’ve trained very hard for this moment. Other opinions are not going to affect how I view myself and how I look at my past resume.”
On the other end of the spectrum was Gulini — riding a high as she reached the finish line. Known for her consistency, she capitalized on her ability to land jumps on a course known for its perilous hills.
"Being on the top, sitting there and everything is shaking because you have so much adrenaline and you tell yourself ‘I am top six; no matter what I am top six.’ It's a relief and it's way more exciting."
With her impressive fourth-place finish, Gulini aims to contend with the field heading into the next season and has her sights set on adding a third Olympic appearance to her resume.
While the Americans left women’s snowboardcross empty-handed and searching for answers at the Sochi Games, Jacobellis’ silver lining comes with years of experience as a seasoned veteran and, ultimately, perspective. Following the flower ceremony, she began discussions of her prospects in 2018.
“Four years is a pretty long time. We could have the team event, and that’s another chance to medal,” she explained. “Faye is a really strong rider, so it would be a great thing to be working together for a medal and still have our individual chances as well. It’s something to look forward to in four years.”
But for now, Jacobellis’ hunt for an elusive gold medal continues.