Jacobellis finds herself out in the cold again

Snowboarding’s most dominant athlete leaves another Olympics without a medal

 Julia Pereira de Sousa of France, Lindsey Jacobellis of the US, Michela Moioli of Italy, Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic, Chloe Trespeuch of France and Alexandra Jekova of Bulgaria compete in the Women’s Snowboard Cross finals. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Julia Pereira de Sousa of France, Lindsey Jacobellis of the US, Michela Moioli of Italy, Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic, Chloe Trespeuch of France and Alexandra Jekova of Bulgaria compete in the Women’s Snowboard Cross finals. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

 

The redemption arc is one of the most reliable Olympic tropes and there were few juicier ones entering these Winter Games than Lindsay Jacobellis. She is the most decorated athlete in the history of snowboard cross, a woman who has won everything except an Olympic gold medal.

Twelve years ago Jacobellis, as you may recall, was responsible for one of the most infamous gaffes in Olympic history. Five seconds clear of the pack in the first ever Olympic snowboard cross final, she went for a trick on the penultimate jump to punctuate her certain victory, only to eat it on the landing as Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden whizzed past her for the gold.

Snowboard cross is often described as Nascar on snow, where volatility is a core feature rather than a bug, but there was no way to frame Jacobellis’ 2006 wipeout as anything but a cautionary tale against showboating. She graced the cover of Sports Illustrated upon her return as part of a class of free-spirited American youths who brought home a bucketful of medals from Torino, but Jacobellis wore her silver like a millstone, cast by the public as a sort of real-life Crying Jordan meme years before anyone knew what that was.

Action from the women’s snowboard cross. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
Action from the women’s snowboard cross. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Now a four-time Olympian at 32, Jacobellis had a chance to bury the ghost for good in the snowboard cross final on a sun-splashed morning at the Phoenix Snow Park. Stories like these are exactly why NBC paid $7.65 billion for the broadcast rights, a sum greater than the GDPs of several nations represented in Pyeongchang. Cruelly, there was every indication early on that it was finally her day.

She’d raced out in front early in the quarter-finals, just managing to avoid a crash that sent the rear of the field scattering across the course. She did the same in the semi-final round, where she’d been eliminated at the previous two Olympics, leading for most of the way and cruising into the medal run. Once more in the final Jacobellis ran to an early lead and for about 40 seconds it looked as if the prize would finally be hers.

But she was overtaken by Italy’s Michela Moioli, the in-form World Cup leader, fell toward the back of the pack and couldn’t make up ground, missing the podium by three-hundredths of a second.

“It’s definitely the only thing I haven’t won, but it’s not something that’s going to define me,” Jacobellis said afterward. “It’s not how you should be defined because there’s plenty of athletes that 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 and they’re role models and someone who wants to give back into the sport.”

For every Chloe Kim or Simone Biles at the Olympics there’s a Jacobellis, putting a fine point on the thin line between hero’s laurels and goat horns. She is right that her Olympic hoodoo shouldn’t obscure the most decorated career in the history of her sport, but NBC doesn’t shell out 10-figure sums to reach the viewer who knows Jacobellis as the winner of five world championships, 10 Winter X Games titles and 29 World Cup events. The target demographic is the person who didn’t know what snowboard cross was until an hour before.

It’s unfortunate because Jacobellis has done more to put snowboard cross in the public eye than anyone. She’s continues to compete after three knee surgeries and worked tirelessly on the grassroots level to promote her sport, most notably with Supergirl , an all-female halfpipe and snowboard cross event she’s putting on next month in California centred around the positive empowerment of women.

In the end Jacobellis deserves better than to be remembered for a momentary lapse of competitive judgment when she was 20. But deserve, as they say, has got nothing to do with it. “I finished the best I could today,” Jacobellis said. “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.” - Guardian Service

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