Lindsey Jacobellis competes in the women's snowboardcross qualification at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 16, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – It happened again.
For the fourth straight Olympic Games, Lindsey Jacobellis was riding high and something went wrong.
The greatest snowboardcross racer of all time stayed upright Friday at Phoenix Snow Park – something she has never done at the Games when it counted most – but that wasn’t enough to capture the Olympic gold medal that has eluded her for so long.
Jacobellis, 32, wound up fourth by a scant three-hundredths of a second as another racer fell in front of her at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“Who knows? Maybe I could have snuck in for a medal,” Jacobellis said. “But, you know, at the end of the day I want to stay safe and not blow my knee because I’m not paying attention to my surroundings.”
Although she was disappointed, Jacobellis was remarkably upbeat when running the gauntlet of reporters after the race.
“I could be upset about it, but where is that going to get me?” she said. “Anything can happen in boardercross and I didn’t get injured today. I’ve been dealing with a lot of past injuries flaring up on me, so the fact that I’m still walking out of here is great. I might be limping, but…”
Jacobellis, who has had three knee surgeries, caught some wind during training that made her go too long on one of her jumps. It was too late to get a cortisone shot so she said she is on “an ibuprofen diet.”
Perhaps the painkiller helped when her biggest headache, discussing her silver medal from 2006 that is viewed more as a loss than a win – was brought up yet again.
In Torino, Jacobellis was all alone on the penultimate jump with Olympic gold within her grasp when she decided to inject just a little more style into her run. She performed a “method” grab, caught an edge on the landing and crashed. Although Jacobellis quickly got up, Tanja Frieden of Switzerland zipped past her for the gold.
Jacobellis weakly crossed the finish line for silver in what some have termed the most famous blunder in Olympic history. The words “showboat” and “hot dog” became attached to her name.
And every four years, it comes back to haunt – or rather taunt – her. If people don’t know what happened, it’s all over YouTube.
But there is an, ahem, silver lining. “It’s definitely brought more attention to the sport,” Jacobellis said. “How often do you remember the second-place medalist? Most of the time you only remember the first place. So, that’s just how it went down.”
Lucky Or Unlucky?
On the international ski and snowboard website, it says “a.k.a. Lucky,” under her name, but Jacobellis has been spectacularly unlucky.
In 2010, she swerved to avoid another rider, crashed through a gate and was disqualified in the semifinal. She won the small final and placed fifth overall. Then in 2014, Jacobellis was leading the six-woman semifinal when she fell near the bottom and was last. “It’s just a great big bummer,” she said at the time.
And then came Friday.
Jacobellis won her quarterfinal and was second in her semi.
“I’ve been doing this for so long now,” Jacobellis said. “There are very few times where we’ll run into the same scenario twice. Just having as many tricks in your bag is going to really help. Who knows what will be presented in front of you in that moment. Every step of the way, I have a Plan A, B or C – at that bank turn, off that jump, in that next banked turn, or entering that roll. If you’re in second, what are you going to do here? If you’re in fourth, what are you going to do here?”
If she was in first, she knew what not to do.
Jacobellis got out first and had the lead in the “Big Final,” but she couldn’t sustain it. Jacobellis fell back in the pack and just “ran out of course.”
“I knew it was going to be close,” she said, “a pretty big drag race right to the finish.”
Michela Moioli of Italy won the gold, Julia Pereira de Sousa Mabileau of France the silver and Eva Samkova the bronze. Chloe Trespeuch of France was in fourth when she fell down, and Jacobellis passed her.
“I got caught in traffic, and then you can only do so much,” Jacobellis said. “So I finished the best I could today. If we ran the race tomorrow, it could be a whole different story. It’s the winner of this day. It doesn’t define me as an athlete. I’ve been doing this sport for 20 years, and that’s a lot longer than some of these girls have been alive.”
She was happy to make the final for the first time since 2006. Her teammates weren’t so fortunate.
Faye Gulini stalled on the approach to the first jump in her quarterfinal, never caught up and was sixth. Meghan Tierney had a late crash and was fifth, which eliminated both.
“It takes a split second for something to go wrong,” Jacobellis said. “It’s complete top to bottom execution for a full minute and a half. And you have to do that up to seven times and that’s very unlike any other sport.”
Sport Constantly Developing
“As the level of snowboarding for women’s snowboardcross goes up and up, it makes it harder and harder (to make the final),” Jacobellis added. “So it’s pretty cool to be a part of that development and still be here racing against these girls who are significantly younger than me and have less injury history, less ups and downs.”
Her downs all seem to come at the Games.
Jacobellis, who now lives in Southern California where she surfs when she has time, had been working with a mental coach about how to handle the questions about 2006.
While she still hasn’t changed the conversation from her Olympic mishaps, she nevertheless has a resume that supports G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time).
Jacobellis has dominated the snowboardcross world, winning won 29 world cup titles, a record for both men and women, 10 X Games titles and five world championships gold medals.
Her success is all the more impressive given the uncertainties of her sport.
“It’s unpredictable,” Jacobellis said. “It can be harsh. It’s got the crazy crashes. It has everything spectators love, all those variables we can’t control. That’s also what makes it a frustrating sport, but a very rewarding sport for an athlete. You can be training your heart out and you can be the best contender to win, and you’re in the first heat and somebody takes you out and you’re the top qualifier, and now you’re completely out of the race. It can change on a dime like that.”
She said she’s not sure how much longer she will race.
“I’m taking it one year at a time,” Jacobellis said. “I wouldn’t ever retire right after Olympics. That wouldn’t suit me. It would just be that I’ve run my race, run my course and my boardercross years are over. But I doubt that because I still just made it into a final, so I clearly still have proven that I belong in the sport and can grow even more in this sport.”
She even acknowledges that not winning the gold in Torino kept her going when she might have retired at 20.
“I did not love the sport when I was that young going into it,” Jacobellis said, “because I was told that I was ‘America’s Sweetheart,’ that ‘You’re going to win,’ and that’s just a lot of pressure to put on somebody. And to go on a world stage, it’s enough to really throw somebody for a loop. So I was fortunate enough to to still stay in the sport.”
But she acknowledges that 12 years later, that Olympic gold medal is still missing from her list of accomplishments.
“Yeah, it’s definitely the only thing I haven’t won,” said Jacobellis, who said her mom has her silver medal from Torino.
“Most of the time people jump in and they see the sport once every four years, so of course, that’s how they would define me. But it’s not how you should be defined because there’s plenty of other athletes who have never acquired that Olympic gold, but still keep qualifying and still keep coming back because what are they truly? They’re Olympic contenders, they’re Olympic athletes. They’re role models and someone who wants to give back to the sport.”
Jacobellis wants to give back through an all-female event for snowboardcross, a “Supergirl” event, which she has been working on for two years. She said it is about creating an environment that is positive and empowers women.
She also had a hand in developing the next generation. She coached Tierney, who is now 20, when Tierney was 11.
“I always told her, ‘You never know where this could bring you,’” Jacobellis said. “’If you love this sport, keep at it and have fun with it. You never know what doors can open up because of it and where you end up in life.’ That’s the whole legacy I’ve been building toward.”