Go ahead. Keep talking about 2006.
Lindsey Jacobellis was on the second-to-last jump in the Olympic snowboard cross final when she decided to spice things up. Rather than taking her considerable lead to the finish, she decided to do a needless backside air, but instead she fell. By the time she recovered, her gold had turned to silver. And that’s exactly what got her here, on top of an Olympic podium 5,000 miles away from Torino, Italy.
The 36-year-old five-time Olympian finally added the elusive Olympic gold medal to her overflowing trophy case with a snowboard cross victory at Genting Snow Park on Wednesday, redeeming herself for a 16-year-old gaffe that she never seemed to escape.
Teammates rejoiced at the bottom of the run, shrieking as Jacobellis squatted low to the ground to cross the finish line in front of Chloe Trespeuch of France and Canada’s Meryeta O’Dine, who took silver and bronze, respectively. Australian Belle Brockhoff finished fourth in the final race.
Already sporting a wide grin while charging through the final feet of the course, Jacobellis clutched her hands to her chest after the finish.
“It just seemed like an unbelievable moment,” she said. “It didn’t seem real at the time.”
Many may have imagined the moment she crossed the finish line would symbolize exorcising of demons that lingered from 2006. But Jacobellis insists she let those go a long time ago.
Instead on Wednesday, she was simply free to feel the joy of winning the United States’ first gold medal of these Games and adding “Olympic champion” to her impressive resume.
“[I] have done a lot of soul searching to realize that that moment doesn’t define me as an athlete and as an individual,” Jacobellis said. “What I’ve accomplished in this sport and how I’ve shaped this sport is huge and instrumental.”
It sounds like an arrogant overstatement but is simply the truth coming from Jacobellis. She is her sport’s most accomplished athlete: 31 World cup victories, 10 X Games gold medals, six world championship gold medals.
But her Olympics mishaps have been almost as numerous.
She was one of the rising stars in Torino, a marketable 20-year-old with blond hair and a bright smile. Then her overconfident flub turned into one of the biggest bloopers of the Games.
After settling for silver in 2006, she failed to even make the finals in 2010 and 2014. In Pyeongchang, she blew another early lead and finished 0.03 seconds away from bronze.
[I] have done a lot of soul searching to realize that that moment doesn’t define me as an athlete and as an individual.
U.S. snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis on her gaffe at the 2006 Olympics
The recent shortcomings made Jacobellis grateful to even make the final Wednesday when there was another close finish. But chaos and tight races are the norm in snowboard cross, where four riders compete in heats shoulder-to-shoulder in something akin to NASCAR, if the cars were swerving down a mountain.
The minuscule margins for error in the sport took Jacobellis time to process and accept. Now at 36, she’s ready to let the results go.
“There’s definitely those times that I look back on my other past Olympic experiences where I was just missing out or it just didn’t come together and at the end of the day, that’s just our sport,” Jacobellis said.
“There’s so many uncontrollable variables. … As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to forgive myself of the uncontrollable variables, and that’s just taking maturity and time and understanding, and that helps you heal and move on and apply that skill that you learned in the next race.”
Jacobellis is respected in her sport for her experience and activism on behalf of women in snowboarding. She runs an all-female snowboard cross race, Super Girl Snow Pro, and hosts girls of all ages, who get coaching from professionals. She marvels at the sport’s growth and the depth at women’s competitions now.
“Honestly, if it’s going to go to anyone, I’m so proud that she got it,” said O’Dine, the Canadian bronze medalist. “Not only the fact that she’s one of the most experienced riders on tour, she’s a very, very, outspoken woman for the rights of our sports and the rights of our athletes and what she believes should make things safer and easier flowing for the sport.”
After the final, Brockhoff approached Jacobellis to congratulate her. The 29-year-old Australian told the American star she watched her as a young girl in Torino.
Jacobellis was supposed to leave those Games with gold. But after finally getting one Wednesday, Jacobellis said she might not have won this medal had she won in 2006. She may have quit the sport. It wasn’t very fun for her, she said. The pressure was immense, and people didn’t understand. A gold medal would have brought her even more media attention.
But her strong competitive nature and joy from seeing the sport develop kept her going despite the Olympic setbacks and days that sent her anxiety soaring. Days like Wednesday make it all worth it, she said.
Jacobellis brushed off any questions about whether these would be her last Games, and when asked what people should take away from stories like hers, Jacobellis shrugged.
“Don’t count the ol’ girl out.”