Phil Sheridan: For Jacobellis, tears and class

"It's unfortunate that the rest of the world sees just this race and four years ago," said Lindsey Jacobellis.
"It's unfortunate that the rest of the world sees just this race and four years ago," said Lindsey Jacobellis.
Posted: February 17, 2010

VANCOUVER - Lindsey Jacobellis would like the world to remember her for a stellar career in snowboarding rather than two unfortunate interactions with gravity.

Alas, this is a bit like Bill Buckner wanting to be remembered for making the National League all-star team in 1981 instead of that one ground ball through his wicket in the 1986 World Series.

Jacobellis wrote the shorthand on her career at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. With a comfortable lead in the snowboard-cross final, Jacobellis decided to show off a bit in the spirit of her carefree sport. Coming off the next-to-last jump, she reached down to touch her board.

Instead of being a signature moment of celebration, the showboating cost her the gold medal. Jacobellis fell, was passed by a thoroughly stunned Swiss named Tanja Frieden, and wound up with one of the most sheepish silver medals in history.

Shorthand: Tried to be a hot dog, wound up on her buns.

So this year's Olympics were Jacobellis' chance to rewrite that legacy. Win a gold medal here and that 2006 goof would become a little less onerous. Fall short, however, and the gold medal she gave away would seem that much more profound a waste.

Alas . . .

Jacobellis was disqualified during her semifinal heat. She got off to a strong start alongside the eventual gold medalist, Maelle Ricker of Canada. On the first jump, Jacobellis landed awkwardly, tried to regain her balance, and wound up off the course.

"Maelle and I were pretty close," Jacobellis said. "I don't think we made contact. I was just going off the first jump into the first bank turn. I got a little off-balance. When you're not completely centered on your board, it's hard to go 100 percent into a feature. When I tried to gain my composure, my board just hooked an edge and just went to it. I was like, 'Oh, there's the panel. I guess I should just stop.' "

Jacobellis coasted off to the side as the three other boarders disappeared over the next hill. She put her hands on top of head in disbelief, her Olympic legacy sealed.

"It's unfortunate that the rest of the world sees just this race and four years ago," Jacobellis said. "I don't have a good track record with the general public. But I know, with myself, there's so many things I've accomplished. When people think of boardercross, they think of me as one of the top women athletes. I feel like that's a great accomplishment."

And it is. Jacobellis competes in a niche sport with a brief history. There is money in it and, thanks to her looks, lucrative marketing opportunities and crossover fame. She has been the best athlete in her sport for several years, and that is more than most of us accomplish.

But these are the Olympics. A gold medal here means more than a first-place finish in some World Cup event or the X Games. It just does. It may be lost on youthful practitioners of the recently added, TV-friendly sports such as snowboard cross and half-pipe, but the history and tradition of these Games mean something.

There's a reason hundreds of millions of people around the world are watching. And there's almost certainly a connection between the brighter lights and the added pressure and disappointing outcomes.

This time, Jacobellis simply lost an edge in what shaped up to be a tight race with Ricker. Her fifth-place finish was disappointing, but more sporting than showboating her way from gold to silver.

To her credit, Jacobellis got back on the course and finished. And to her extreme credit, she came off the final jump, reached down, and grabbed her board - with both hands this time.

"I just felt like doing a nice, fun 'truck driver' grab," Jacobellis said. "That's the spirit that it is. It's a bummer, but I came off and it was like, you know, you can still have some fun in some way. I knew, since everyone was waiting for me to come down, they'd be watching. So I figured I'd have some fun and show 'em that I still have a deep passion for the sport."

It was a nice touch, a little signal that she knew exactly what everyone was thinking and that she wasn't going to be cowed by it.

And then she cried. Just a little. After Ricker blew away the field in a suddenly easy final, Jacobellis shed a couple of tears. She may or may not be back in 2014 - she said she would take her career "a year at a time" - and this may have been her last Olympic moment.

That's what she didn't get in Turin. She earned a gold medal, then lost it by failing to understand the gravity of the event. This time, the trouble was plain old gravity.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or Read his recent work at

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