It's not a pleasant question and we don't relish asking it, but after she ended her second straight Olympics with a spectacular flame-out, it must be asked: Did Lindsey Jacobellis choke in Tuesday's snowboard cross semifinal at the Vancouver Games?
The American gold-medal favorite overshot the first jump of the race, landed with an awkward bobble, and clipped a gate. The contact drew an automatic disqualification. Jacobellis threw up her hands in confusion and disgust and then veered off the course.
It wasn't as bad a mistake as in 2006, when Jacobellis was cruising toward Olympic gold before falling on the final jump because an unnecessary hot-dog maneuver: Instead of grabbing her board with both hands, as is routine in snowboard cross races, Jacobellis used a one-handed grab to put a punctuation mark on her gold-medal run – but she lost her balance on her landing and slid across the finish line to earn a silver medal.
Poignantly, when Jacobellis futilely finished her run Tuesday (the disqualification became automatic when she didn't ski back around the gate she clipped), she used the standard two-handed grip on the final jump. Those watching in the United States missed this moment, though, as NBC cut away from its taped coverage of the event without showing Jacobellis crossing the line. She later won the consolation race, something that she might have blown off in the past. It's a sign of growth.
Snowboard cross is an unpredictable event, and jostling and spills are common. Yet it's hard not to look at the error made by Jacobellis without bringing up her past. Her reputation precedes her. Maybe that's unfair, but it's the nature of the beast. If Derek Jeter strikes out late in a World Series game, nobody says boo. If Alex Rodriguez does it, he's a choking dog.
Jacobellis looked nervous from the start of the race, fidgeting around at the gate like a toddler who needed to use the restroom. And when she clipped the gate, her reaction was that of someone who was more resigned to the mistake than surprised about it. Does that make her a choker? Not necessarily. Frankly, it doesn't matter. Choke or not, it was another Olympic disappointment for the premier snowboard cross racer in the world.