Where Have You Gone, Lindsey Jacobellis?

By Aimee Berg | March 28, 2013, 9:30 a.m. (ET)
Lindsey Jacobellis speaks to the media during the United States Olympic Committee snowboardcross team press conference ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 10, 2010 in Vancouver, B.C.

Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis attends the 2010 Ski
and Snowboard Ball at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Nov. 4, 2010
in New York City.

It’s rare to see a snowboardcross podium without Lindsey Jacobellis on it. The 28-year-old Connecticut-born rider with wild blonde curls has dominated the discipline for a decade by claiming 26 World Cup wins, three world championship titles, and seven X Games gold medals – but she hasn’t competed since January 2012.

At the X Games in Aspen, Colo., that year, Jacobellis was vying for a five-peat when she overshot a jump in practice and tore the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She had surgery four days later. When she returned to snow in August 2012, in New Zealand, it didn’t hurt to ride, but she felt knee pain afterwards and assumed it was due to her increasingly difficult weight room workouts.

A checkup, however, revealed that her ACL had slowly stretched during those first 10 months so she had a second surgery, on Dec. 18, in Vail, Colo., and has been healing ever since.

TeamUSA.org caught up with Jacobellis over the weekend to find out what’s going on.

Where are you rehabbing, and how’s the progress?

I’m in Park City, Utah, at the Center of Excellence. I’m doing very well. I’m starting to lift more weights. I’m doing [explosive plyometric exercises] in the pool. I’ve even started running on a treadmill, up to 1.6 miles. I’m really coming along. My back-to-snow test date is May 7.

After 14 months away from competition, how are you staying mentally sharp?  How do you keep that edge, or that hunger or that focus that you can only get through racing?

I just have a very competitive nature. It’s just how I grew up with my brother. [Ben, 32, competed in World Cup snowboardcross until 2009]. That drive to win is never going away. I felt it again when I was in Russia. I went to the test event just to watch and I ended up coaching and helping. I remembered exactly what it felt like just by looking at the course – not even seeing people go by. I could feel what it felt like to have my muscles move going over certain features.

Were you doing commentary or watching video somewhere?

I just walked up to the course. I was on the second or third banked turn.  There are only two [U.S. coaches]. One’s on top. The other’s at the bottom. And there’s that middle section where they didn’t know how things were running. I was giving that feedback.

You gave feedback to both the U.S. men and women?

I was only really watching the men. It was pouring rain the whole time so I felt my services were more needed with the guy side. The men’s field is a lot more competitive so it’s more important – especially in very inconsistent snow conditions; it would be raining, snowing, melting, freezing, so it makes the course run differently. And I feel I can learn more from watching the men.

Do you think of the Sochi course will suit your style?

If it’s a very active course, then it will definitely play to my strong points because I’m a very active rider. I’d do better on that than on a course where’s it’s all drafting and trying to go as fast as you can and just pointing into jumps.

How would you describe a “very active course”?

When a lot of features are packed together – maybe 50 yards of rollers right into a banked turn and a jump right after that so there’s no time for cruise control. Your legs are always moving.

In your absence, have any other women started to win as consistently as you did?

I haven’t been paying too much attention to the circuit because I just don’t feel like that’s conducive to my healing.

In the 13 years you’ve been competing, has boardercross grown much? What’s changed?

The talent is a little deeper. It’s not extremely easy for me anymore – which is good because it means that I’ve improved the sport and that’s definitely how I want to be remembered. When you hear boardercross, you associate my name with it and what I’ve done for the sport – not only the women’s side but the men’s side, too, because sometimes I can do the features better than the men and they’ll be referring me to in video review or watching me. You can tell; you can see them filming.

You just referred to your legacy. Is retirement in the back of your mind? Do you know when you’d like to make an exit?

It’s way too far down the road. There’s so much happening in the present. It doesn’t seem like a practical thing to do. I have options and interests but I feel like that opportunity will come around when it has to.

What kind of career would interest you?

Sports therapy has been a big part of my life because I’ve had ailments all the time. That, or being a personal trainer or designing clothes. Or coach. There’s a lot of opportunities. I feel like one will be presented and I’ll try it out and see if that’s where I want to be.

Have you done any college, and if so, have you pursued any of those areas in school?

I took a couple classes when I was first injured, last May. And I did an online class but it’s too time consuming because I’m at the gym five to six hours a day.

Five to six hours – and you’re not even 100 percent. What do you do in the gym that whole time?

I’ll go in, bike for an hour, have a little snack. Then I’ll work on body parts that are not injured – my right leg, my upper body, my core and my back – for an hour-and-a-half to two hours. Then I’ll do PT for about two hours where they’re only working on strengthening my left leg and looking for any weakness or [imbalances]. Then I’ll get on the table for a half hour and they’ll massage it and I’ll ice it and do some sort of recovery for the rest of my body, like a hot-and-cold pool. So it takes a while.

Back to Sochi: has the Olympic boardercross format changed for 2014?

Yes, they’re doing six people now instead of four [per heat]. So they’ll have the top 24 women and top 48 men. It makes me a little nervous. Normally, 16 has been the barrier for women capable of racing in heats safely. When you open that up to 24, sometimes you get girls who are not used to being in heats. They’re like that wild card that you can’t control. But the good side is, it gives people opportunities and it will help the sport progress.

The X Games format was six-at-a-time so it’s not totally foreign to you, right?

No, it’s not foreign. Actually, in the IFS – which came before the FIS – boardercross always used to be six people. That’s what I started doing. Then it was FIS, and they thought it was a little too extreme. They almost kept it to two. We lobbied for four.

Until 2008, you competed in both halfpipe and boardercross. Do you miss competing in halfpipe?

I don’t miss the injuries of halfpipe, honestly. I was always having a little ailment or some little thing that I had to be nursing. Or I’d have concussions. I’ve had a better run overall in snowboardcross -- even though I’ve had this [knee] injury now.

Now that slopestyle is an Olympic event for 2014, would there ever be a day where we could see you compete in an Olympic slopestyle event?

Maybe. I used to do slopestyle all the time in the X Games. I actually have a bronze, in 2003. That year, I also got fourth in halfpipe and I won boardercross. When the X Games went live – they used to be recorded – it made it impossible to go from one event to the next. I’d have time trials at boardercross and immediately after, I had to go practice for slopestyle. It was exhausting and it was starting to take a toll on my body. That’s when I’d fall and that’s when I’d get a concussion or something. It began to jeopardize my body.

After all those disciplines, all those victories, and one notorious silver medal run at the 2006 Olympics, do you remember the first time you won a major boardercross event?

Yes, it was at my first World Cup race, in Bad Gastein, Austria, in [2004]. I was [18].  It was the first time I had a race without my brother. They split the girls and guys up for training and I had to train by myself because there was no U.S. woman on the team. You’d see all these teams come up with their matching outfits and it was a little intimidating. I was like a little lone wolf.

Were you surprised that you won that day? 

I guess I was relieved because it reassured me that I could do it without my brother, that I had the ability. [Jacobellis went on to win three more races that season and place third in the FIS overall women’s boardercross standings.]

You’ve been dominant ever since. How do you explain it?

I think it was a lot of things. It was my talent set. It was my timing. I got into boardercross maybe five to six years before a lot of other women did and I raced the guys because no women were doing it at that time. It made me a little tougher. I had to ride differently. There are things that still surprise me when I look back because it all happened so fast. And I’m still learning. It’s kind of like a Shaun White thing. He’s so dominant. He was given a great set up, a lot of attention and opportunities, and it really helped his career take off. Everything just lines up. That’s how an Olympic win will happen. Everything needs to line up.

Lastly, I’d be remiss not to hear your perspective on your past two Olympic experiences.  In Vancouver, you finished last in your semifinal and placed fifth. What happened in that semi and what, if anything did you learn from it?

I collided with a girl in the air and we immediately went into a banked turn so when I landed, I was off-balance and wasn’t able to hold it together. I think it was Maelle [Ricker, the eventual gold medalist] or Deb [Anthonioz, the silver medalist]. I can’t remember. It was right in the beginning, like over first jump. We were all kind of clustered together. I was maybe thinking too far ahead and already put myself in the finals and realized that I still had another race to get there.

What I’ve been taking away from this injury is really living in the moment and making sure I’m putting every bit of effort into what I’m doing so I’m fully there, in the situation, and 100-percent aware.

What about 2006 in Torino? Do people still recognize you and ask you about the crash on the final jump that cost you the gold?

Sometimes, but not usually. It happened forever ago. Looking back, I know I made a mistake, but it was something I did when I was [20]. How many [20]-year-olds make mistakes?

In a way, it might have done more to expose the sport than if you had cruised to the finish conservatively and taken gold.

That’s true. People know me and they recognize me. Who ever really remembers second place? But if you do something like that then – (laugh)

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.