Every 4 years, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis must relive her Olympic mistake
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Lindsey Jacobellis tried to pre-empt the question everyone knew was coming, the one she can't escape. In her first news conference at her fourth Olympic Games, she tried to direct her narrative forward instead of backward, sharing plans to host an all-female snowboard cross event in March -- the first of its kind, an investment in the future of a sport that has always belonged to her.
"As you become a more seasoned athlete, you start thinking -- what's the next step for yourself and what's the next step you want to instill as the legacy," Jacobellis said. "I decided I really wanted to focus the energy back to (snowboard cross) ... I want to see how I can further develop that and build that and make that more successful -- not [only] as a whole, but also for women in general."
The word "legacy" raised that uncomfortable question, too. The 32-year-old's legacy will always include that race in Turin, the one they always ask about, the one in which she celebrated prematurely and let a gold medal slip away. But moments later, when asked to talk about the greatest adversity she has had to overcome, Jacobellis didn't go there.
"One of the hardest things was when I got injured," said Jacobellis, referring to a torn anterior cruciate ligament and surgical repair gone wrong that cost her part of the 2012 and all of the 2013 season. "And you just never know as an athlete -- will I come back and be as strong? Will I be fearless and get back out there?"
She did get back out there, recovering in time to make the semifinals of the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Leading that race by plenty, she stumbled again and failed to qualify for the final. Twice -- with that fall and a disqualification in Vancouver in 2010 -- she has chased the gold medal she lost so long ago. Twice, her pursuit has been futile. So the question always comes, in one form or another, and it did so Thursday. The only thing missing from your resume is a gold medal. Knowing that, when you look back at Turin, how do you move forward?
"Knowing that a medal doesn't define me as an athlete. I have a pretty good resume. I'm still at it in the sport. I haven't given up," said Jacobellis, who seemed braced for the question, to which she gave the shortest answer to any of the 15 minutes of questions she fielded.
"I'm still here and I'm focused on these Games. I'm going to put my heart into it and do the best I can."
Her defiance is honed, whittled from the debacle she endured in 2006. The uproar that followed, the one that crescendos every four years, seems to suggest that the medal she lost belonged to everyone somehow.
But if it does belong to everyone, don't the 10 X Games titles and 27 World Cup wins in 72 races belong to them, too? Shouldn't a decade and a half of consistency earn some hoots and hollers now and then? She has won five of the past seven world championship titles, losing a shot at a sixth to a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost her the 2014 season. Nobody asks about the titles she has won. They ask about the one she hasn't.
"Every time she answers a question, she's a champion. I look up to her in that way," said her teammate Nick Baumgartner, who is competing in his third Olympics. " ... She's the best snowboard cross racer that's ever been. There's no shame in that."
"That's true. [I am the best ever]," she said, when a reporter made the same assertion. "I have a resume that supports that. I can't really get mad at those people who chime in every four years and don't really understand our sport and the development and how hard we work."
Now, she is back for another chance at redemption, the reigning world champion in a sport she says she has no intentions of quitting soon. She wants to give back to the sport that got her here, but most people won't ask much about that. Given her dominance in her sport's other high-profile competitions, and her inability to win at the highest profile competition of them all, Jacobellis will always be followed by the same questions about her Olympic past -- unless, of course, she adds an Olympic gold medal to her future.