Olympic disappointments shouldn't define Jacobellis' career
Lindsey Jacobellis lost control and went off course in the semifinal heat
She came into these games seeking a happier ending than in 2006
Even after her DQ, the sport's most accomplished rider carried herself with pride
CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, British Columbia -- How do you know you're having a bad day? When you are standing out of bounds impersonating the distressed man in Edvard Munch's "The Scream" while the three other women in your semifinal disappear down the course. Lindsey Jacobellis may not have been looking for redemption -- she always bristled at suggestions that she needed to apologize for her silver medal from the Turin Olympics. But she was certainly looking for a more uplifting outcome than the one she was dealt Tuesday afternoon. The 24-year-old from Stratton, Vermont had been riding well until she bobbled an early jump, lost control of her board found herself -- suddenly, anticlimactically -- off the course and out of the Olympics.
Oh well. Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. Ted Williams never won a World Series. And you know what? Jacobellis has nothing in common with them.
She has won a pair of World Championships, in 2005 and '07. She's won the Winter X Games, the gold standard for action sports in this country, six times. She is the most accomplished rider in the admittedly brief history of her admittedly out-of-the-mainstream sport. But that's not how she'll be remembered by the people who only see her every four years, on an Olympic stage.
She came into these games seeking a happier ending than the one she wrote for herself in Turin. You'll never believe what happened that day. Leading by a light year, and with the finish line in sight ...
What's that? You've already heard the story of the world's most famous method grab? Roughly a thousand times, you say? In that case I'll skip ahead to this morning's qualifiying runs, complicated by rain during the night, then intermittently delayed by the cloak of fog enveloping this mountain. We've had rain, sleet, wet snow, high winds and fog. On the bright side, Cypress has yet to be plagued by mudslides or locusts. Then again, it's still early: we've got aerials, ski-cross and parallel giant slalom here later this week.
The morning qualifiers could best be described as a cavalcade of carnage. Hurtling through the mist, rider after rider found themselves launched from jumps they hadn't quite had time to prepare for. They flipped. They flew through fences. They took out boundary markers. Sometimes all in the same run. Dominique Maltais, a strong medal favorite who finished the season ranked third in the World Cup rankings, crashed twice in the qualifiers and never made it to the first round. Following her first crash, she later explained, she was "spitting blood."
A Swiss rider named Simona Meiler was walking around at the finish with a bloody abrasion at the right corner of her mouth. She looked like she'd been in a car wreck. As the quallies wore on, fewer women made it down the mountain clean than did those who wiped out.
Immune to the carnage was Jacobellis, who posted the second fastest qualifying time and laid waste to the three opponents in her qualifying round. She looked confident and strong. As did Ricker, the 31-year-old from West Vancouver, beside whom Jacobellis found herself through the first and second turns of their semifinal heat. While it appeared the pair may have traded paint, both confirmed, after the fact, that it didn't go down that way.
"I don't think we clipped," said an ebullient Ricker. "We were definitely really close right out of the start. I don't know what happened to her. I don't know where she went down."
Ricker's winning run was a masterpiece: for one breathtaking minute (and change), she occupied the intersection of technical precision and supreme aggression. Five seconds into the race, the battle was for second place. (And felicitations to you, Deborah Anthonioz of France, and bronze medalist Olivia Nobs of Sweden.)
Much umbrage was taken among members of the American media when Jacobellis strode past them. All was forgiven an hour later, when she held an impromptu press conference, where it was explained that Lindsey wanted to spend time with her extended family -- including rarely seen cousins from Roxbury! -- and then had drug testing.
Where she had dissolved into tears after a violent training crash two days earlier, the 24-year-old was composed, collected and engaging as she met the press.
She was philosophical: "Sometimes you can't control the things that you want to. That's just how it goes in this sport sometimes."
She was proud, without being overbearing: "I do so many competitions a year, it's unfortunate that the rest of the world only sees [me at the Olympics]". "So I guess I don't have a great track record with the general public. But I know myself that when people think of boardercross, they think of me as one of the top woman athletes, and I think that's a great accomplishment."
She was an ambassador for her sport. After getting herself disqualified, she took her time getting down the course. Really, what was the rush? And in the wake of her biggest disappointment in four years, she made a decision which, in my eyes, redeemed her.
By day's end, this treacherous, technical course had absorbed 77 runs. (Three of the 38 women did not take their second qualifying run). None of the riders who took those runs dared grab their board coming off the final jump, a massive kicker that sent them flying at least a hundred feet. As Jacobellis went airborne, she grabbed her board with both hands. That one, she informed us, is called the Truckdriver.
Then she released her board. This time, she stuck the landing.
"I figured I would have some fun," she explained, "and show [the crowd] I still have a deep passion for the sport, and that if you haven't snowboarded before, maybe you should. Because it's pretty fun."
Here's hoping her Olympic career is not bookended by the Method and the Truckdriver. Whaddya say Lindsey? See you in four years?