Jacobellis’ shot at redemption ends in sorrow
WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Lindsey Jacobellis’ final pass down Cypress Mountain came in an event called the Small Final. It is what it sounds like: a downhill trek of inconsequence for the snowboardcross riders who flopped into the consolation round. The Small Final might as well hand out copper, nickel and zinc medals.
Nothing precious, not for the biggest goat of the 2006 Winter Olympics, who turned into the biggest turkey of the Vancouver Games on Tuesday afternoon. Earlier, Jacobellis landed awkwardly off the first big jump in her semifinal race. She pitched right, then left, clipped a gate and spun off the course, an automatic disqualification. While the other three riders raced down the hill, the 24-year-old Jacobellis took her sweet time before arriving at the last jump.
And with a little nod to her past, Jacobellis soared toward the crowd, reached down and clutched her board with both hands. A truck-driver grab, it’s called, technically more difficult than the method grab that caused Jacobellis to crash off the final jump of the Turin Games and lose the gold medal.
“I was just having fun,” she said. “Since everyone was waiting for me to come down, they’d be watching, so I figured I’d have some fun and show them I still have a deep passion for the sport.
“It’s unfortunate the rest of the world only sees this race and four years ago. So I don’t have a great track record for the general public.”
Outside of the snowboarding world, Jacobellis’ name is not so much a name as it is a dictionary entry, and it gained a new definition Tuesday. A proposal, to Messrs. Merriam and Webster, for their 2011 unabridged.
Main entry: Jacobellis
Dates: 2006, 2010
1. To cost oneself athletic glory and sentence oneself to a lifetime of smarmy people using surname as a verb, esp. through youthfully hubristic hot-dogging.
2. To spin out and end an Olympic Games in disappointment.
Synonyms: Van de Velde.
The more recent definition, of course, is far less inglorious. Jacobellis wasn’t the bad guy Tuesday. She blew off the media at first, and frankly, after spending four years working toward redemption and watching it go down like a Zeppelin, it’s tough to blame her. Later, after she took her drug test and commiserated with her family, she returned to discuss what happened.
It was simple: On a course shrouded in fog all day and with some snow that, in Jacobellis’ words, “felt like mashed potatoes,” she bit it. She caught huge air on the jump, enough that she almost landed on the board of Canadian Maelle Ricker. Jacobellis ended up leaning on her front foot heading into one of the snowboardcross course’s hairpin turns, where anything but optimal balance is an invitation to eat snow.
When a piece of the gate snapped into the air, Jacobellis lifted her arms in anguish before smacking her helmet. The jumbo screen along the side of the mountain stayed with her for a few extra moments, forgetting the race and focusing on the woman who can’t conquer the Olympics.
Even worse, after she crossed the finish line, Jacobellis needed to go down to the ski lift and jump a chair back to the top. The Small Final beckoned. It was an inconvenience, an indignity and an insult, and the ride was the longest of her life. Jacobellis looked down on the mountain, back to the fans, surveyed the entire scene. She had blown it. She had blown it again.
It evoked sympathy. The Turin disaster was her fault. This was … snowboardcross. Men fall. Women fall. The best fall. The worst fall. Jacobellis treated the Small Final like her medal round and shredded the competition to win the figurative copper. She hung around for the Big Final, in which Ricker, the world’s top-ranked rider and Jacobellis’ presumed competition, tore down the mountain and went into the last jump with about a 50-yard lead, the same length Jacobellis held in 2006.
Ricker didn’t grab her board.
She won Canada’s second gold of the Games.
And soon thereafter, Jacobellis escaped down the side of the mountain, along a path nobody but officials and athletes could trod, free of questions and comments. She didn’t need any help bathing in her disappointment.
“I feel OK, though,” Jacobellis said. “Sometimes you can’t control the things you want to.”
She didn’t try to make any excuses, either, as she did at first in the Turin Games, when she said she grabbed the board to stabilize herself. Eventually, she copped to styling, and then she started to cry, a 20-year-old girl who screwed up ripe for the world to criticize. To the righteously indignant, she was everything that is wrong with kids these days and just another snowboard bum and an insult to her city, state, country, world, galaxy and universe.
The 2010 Games gave Jacobellis an opportunity for redemption, and while NBC didn’t climb about her bandwagon as it did prior to 2006, it is always willing to sate those who froth for such pabulum. Jacobellis failed. Redemption, if she even believes in such a thing, will have to wait for another four years.
For now, Jacobellis is the turkey, and guess what: It’s just as bad as being the goat, even if it’s not as sexy and controversial and doesn’t cause nearly the firestorm. She neared Olympic greatness twice. She bungled both chances. And by the end of Tuesday, no matter how much consolation she took in her effort or bad luck, Jacobellis felt much like her final race: small.