Lindsey Jacobellis was hoping to give a performance in Torino that people would remember.
Unfortunately, she did just that.
Gold medallist Tanja Frieden of Switzerland, above, and American Lindsey Jacobellis, take a turn in the final of the Women's Snowboard Cross competition at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Bardonecchia, Italy, Friday, Feb. 17, 2006. Jacobellis who led most of the race crashed in sight of the finish and took a silver medal, Dominique Maltais of Canada bronze. (AP Photo/Diether Endlicher
Jacobellis, a 20 year old snowboarder from Roxbury, Connecticut, was poised to be America’s next Olympic Sweetheart. With the expectations of a strong performance, advertisers had already been knocking on her door. Magazines had offered photoshoots. All of the signs had pointed to post-Olympic success. Now, only questions remain.
Snowboardcross has proven to be a fan favorite in its first Olympic competition. Due to close proximity of the four racers on the course at a time, a racer’s position can change in an instant. Thanks in part to a crash that took out the other three racers in the women’s final heat, Jacobellis had a comfortable lead throughout much of the race.
Coming into the final turn, Jacobellis held a nearly 100-yard lead. She could have simply coasted to the finish line, and still won easily.
Call it pride, call it ego, call it showmanship, Jacobellis wasn’t about to take it easy.
Note to all current and future athletes: Do not start celebrating with a “victory lap” until you’ve actually won.
In a hot dog move, Jacobellis got air, and proceeded to perform a spin move – a move she’s probably hit countless times in the past.
Today was different, however. Today, she would do it to punctuate her gold medal victory with an exclamation mark.
Today would not be that day, however.
Instead of being transformed into a national hero, Jacobellis will go down in infamy and be haunted by this decision for years to come.
Jacobellis crashes in sight of the finish line. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Unable to stick the landing, possibly due to windy conditions in Bardoneccia, Jacobellis landed on her back, and slid out of bounds. By the time she was able to regain her balance – and composure – Tanja Frieden of Switzerland passed her to take the lead.
In other words, Lindsey Jacobellis snatched defeat from the jaws of Olympic victory.
Jacobellis often uses two specific types of grabs before landing jumps in order remain stable and compact in the air, helping her maintain speed and land with more control:
- "Indy," in which she gets in a tuck and grabs the front-side edge between her feet.
- "Truck driver," which entails grabbing both edges near the front foot.
The crash that cost Jacobellis a gold medal came after she struck a flashy pose known as a "backside method grab." It's a move in which a boarder grabs the backside edge and swings the board out sideways.
The degree of risk is a matter of opinion and usually depends on the stakes.
Other boardercross riders have been known to pull such a move in races, most notably Thursday's gold medalist in the men's event, American Seth Wescott.
"She definitely styled that a little too hard," U.S. Snowboardcross coach Peter Foley said after the race. "That's probably a little riskier than what you want to do. That was a good, stable grab, but she pulled across too far for it to be safe."
Jacobellis reacts prior to the flower ceremony of the Women's Snowboard Cross competition. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Foley wasn't alone in that thinking. "Sometimes it's subconscious, but that was putting on a show," said Wescott.
Despite the fall, Jacobellis claimed that she wouldn’t have wanted to run the race any differently.
"I was having fun," she added. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share with the crowd my enthusiasm. I messed up. Oh well, it happens."
"It was so frustrating because I didn't know how close everyone was. I thought, 'Everyone's going to pass me and I was going to miss any medal. I'm so glad I got a medal."
What happens next is entirely in Jacobellis’ hands. She can learn from this incident, and have it make her career stronger, or she can be consumed by it, and let it ruin her career.
Jacobellis will only be 24 in 2010. With this in mind, she should have another opportunity at Olympic gold. Despite her words, it would be interesting to see just how she might handle the pressure on her at that time. If she plays it right, she may still be America’s Sweetheart.