American boardercross star denied a medal
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia – No gold for Lindsey Jacobellis this time, either.
No medal at all, in fact.
And once again, no one to blame but herself.
Looking to redeem herself after giving away a victory four years ago, Jacobellis’ return trip to the Olympics was even worse. Early in her semifinal race on the snowboardcross course Tuesday, she lost her bearings on a jump, wobbled and skittered to try to regain her balance, but clipped the outside of a gate.
She raised her hands in disbelief, then clasped them over her helmet. The most dominant rider in the world for most of the last decade didn’t even make the medal round.
“Lindsey just landed it off balance,” U.S. coach Peter Foley said. “She changed her line to go up in the bank and gravity from the bank pushed her into the gate.”
Eliminated, Jacobellis looped back onto the course to get down the hill. Riding alone, she grabbed the board with both hands – not only one, the way she did when she fell and blew her lead in 2006. She stuck the landing this time. Hard to send a message, though, when you’re coming down in last place.
First place went to Canada’s Maelle Ricker, who was in tight quarters with Jacobellis on the jump that sent Jacobellis out. Ricker easily defeated Deborah Anthonioz of France in the final. Olivia Nobs of Switzerland won the bronze.
Even in Canada, where they were celebrating their second gold medal of the Olympics, very few thought the story would end this way. Not so surprising that Ricker won, but shocking that she didn’t have to beat her main rival with the gold on the line.
“I expected to see Lindsey in the final,” Ricker said.
Nobody in Canada was complaining, of course. Ricker is the top-ranked rider in the world this year, who had her own making up to do because of that 2006 Olympic final.
Long before Jacobellis hot-dogged her jump, fell and blew her huge lead, Ricker lost her balance and went flying off the course and into the netting. She had to be taken off the course on a stretcher with a concussion. Four years later, she says she doesn’t remember much from that day but felt like there was some unfinished business to take care of.
With Jacobellis out of the way, the final was a breeze.
After Helene Olafsen of Norway wiped out early in the race, Ricker took a huge lead on Deborah Anthonioz of France – think Jacobellis and her massive lead in the 2006 final – and did nothing to mess it up.
Moments earlier, in one of the most cruel ironies of the whole day, Jacobellis enjoyed a similar finish. But that was in the fifth-place race, the race that the semifinal losers are relegated to – and certainly not one Jaco thought she’s be participating in on this day.
In the immediate aftermath of her mistake in Italy, Jacobellis tried to play it off, said she was grabbing the board for stability, no big deal. Called out by her coaches and teammates, she quickly changed her tune and said that, yeah, she might have been doing too much there.
But, hey, that’s snowboarding.
Pretty much everyone inside that world forgave her and she went on dominating, winning the last three Winter X Games to bring her total to six, renewing sponsorship deals and talking about how silver wasn’t all that bad a color.
Certainly true, given the alternative she received on Tuesday, her mother’s birthday, a day she’d circled on the calendar for a long time as the day she could set the past aside.
How was she taking it?
Nobody could know for sure right away. She rushed out of the post-race interview area without doing interviews.
Earlier in the day, after two brutal rounds of qualifying during which more than half the riders fell, she acknowledged she was having difficulty with a slushy, slippery course full of ruts, courtesy of rain and warm weather that has plagued Cypress Mountain all month.
She had been falling all week during training and said the course was beating her up.
“Really bumpy on the turns,” Jacobellis said. “Impossible to tuck at all because it’ll throw your center of gravity off. It’s been giving a lot of trouble to a lot of riders. I know how it feels sometimes when you can’t put it together, and it’s frustrating.”
She wasn’t the only one who struggled. The 2006 bronze medalist, Dominique Maltais of Canada, couldn’t stay upright for either of her qualifying runs and didn’t make the final 16.
Jacobellis was one of the few to make it through both runs unscathed, a testament to her technical ability, to say nothing of her resolve.
Once the main event begins in snowboardcross, one of the most action-packed events at the Olympics, the riders are grouped in fours, and two people advance from each round.
So, even though Jacobellis was paired with Ricker in the semifinal, it figured she would make it to the medal round, then the two could duke it out for the championship.
They were almost shoulder to shoulder on the jump where it all unraveled.
For a brief second, it looked as if Jacobellis might actually stay upright coming out of the jump. She reached her hands out, wobbled. For a moment, it looked like she was back on track. But she lost control again, veered across the course and clipped the outside of the gate.
She raised her hands and looked around, but found herself all alone.
With no one to blame but herself.
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