Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/30/2006 01:55:00 PM
My Sportswoman: Lindsey Jacobellis
Lindsey Jacobellis' miscue cost her gold in snowboardcross, but her attitude afterwards reminded us what sports are really about.
By Kostya Kennedy
Hers was the sports star's life in Cliffs Notes, an arc of fame to infamy condensed (as it can be for Olympians) into a few short weeks. Lindsey Jacobellis came into the 2006 Winter Games with the sheen of new celebrity, prominent on television ads and with her pretty, wind-burnt face and angelic blonde tresses looming large on billboards across the U.S.
There she was, competing in the new and curious sport of snowboardcross, romping down the mountainside, banging off strange-looking moguls, turning on edge, going magnificently airborne. Dazzling.
In the four-rider final she shot out of the gate; within seconds she'd left her competitors and any last shred of anonymity behind. She was soon so well ahead of the rest, hurtling toward Olympic immortality, that her coach, Peter Foley, began shouting, "Keep racing! Keep racing!" afraid Jacobellis would let up.
She didn't, but on the course's final jump, flying high above the slick white track, Jacobellis twisted her body and grabbed the backside of her board. "Method air," they call the move -- a flash of panache. When she crashed to the ground, the crowd gasped, realizing the magnitude of her gaffe. By the time Jacobellis clambered up, her lead and the gold were lost. She slid across the finish line as a silver medalist with a lot of explaining to do.
Why did she have to go and grab her board like that? Why not finish the race soberly and safely? It was in the bag. One hundred meters to go. She was the overconfident hare of the fable, wasn't she? The analysts and the pundits were upon Jacobellis, deriding her as a hot dog, scolding her for snowboating, bemoaning her lack of respect for the Olympic stage.
Jacobellis blinked nervously into the bright lights of the cameras, much as she had in that Visa ad, and said: "I was having fun. Snowboarding is fun. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up."
With that it became clear that all the tsk-tsking was born of shallow thought, that the derision was misplaced. Lindsey Jacobellis wasn't showing a lack of sportsmanship; rather, she was adhering to that most precious of sporting ideals: racing for the pure love of it, for joy, regardless of what was at stake. Snowboarding is fun.
Amid all the portentous bios that clog the media arteries during the Olympics, the stories of hardship and struggle, of draconian efforts to shave one one-hundredth of a second off the time it takes to ski down a mountain or skate around a track, we forget that sports are, at essence, about celebrating human athleticism. Competing in sports is a superfluous human activity made socially vital only because of the pleasure it brings to those who watch it and those who do it.
Intuitively and instinctually, Jacobellis gets this. And that is why, for her one gleeful, lost-in-the-moment mid-air twist, she is the rightful Sportswoman of the Year.
Jacobellis didn't taunt anyone. She didn't beat her chest. She was a 19-year-old, Vermont-bred girl heading down the slope with the world's eyes upon her. She rose up and unleashed genuine spirit, reminding us of the real pulse that beats in the Games.
Trying that move with such a large lead was akin to taunting and talking smack, and it blew up in her face. You can say she was just trying to have fun, but I bet she would have had way more fun if she had just taken care of business and won the gold. Striving for and achieving the pinnacle of your sport is more what sports is about, and it is preferable if it could be done with an innocence of spirit, but not necessary. Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson are regularly skewered for "trying to have fun" with some of their silly antics, so I think it is truly a double standard that apologists are lining up to defend this hot dog.
So basically this 'Vermont' born white girl gets a pass that lets say the US basketball team can get bashed for? Amazing. This girl got off easy and really for showing all that is ugly and nasty in American culture.