Lindsey Jacobellis had the finish line in sight, again, The world’s most dominant athlete in the history of snowboard cross, she had been this way many times at the Olympics. She had never gotten there first, even back in 2006, when she had the lead to herself and committed one of the best-known Olympics blunders in history.
She would not let gold slip away this time. Jacobellis found her storybook ending while delivering the United States its first gold medal at the Beijing Games on Wednesday.
Jacobellis, 36, led the four-woman final from the start, her familiar golden curls spilling out of her helmet as the riders spent 90 seconds navigating a winding course of banked corners, washing-board rollers and big jumps.
This time, when the finish was in sight, Jacobellis kept her crouch low. As she crossed the line, she beamed a huge smile and put her hands to her heart, as if to hold it in.
“It kind of just seemed like an unbelievable moment,” she said afterward. “It didn’t seem real at the time.”
The win will be painted as redemption for Jacobellis, though she has never seen her 2006 fall — when a premature celebration cost her a sure victory — as something to redeem. Back then, she was 20, a young star in the making, the gold medal in sight. But over her last jump, with no competitors around, she added a bit of flair in the air — a grab of her board. She landed on her heels and fell to her backside, spinning three times before coming to a stop.
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Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden zipped past before Jacobellis could gather herself and ride to the finish for second place, one of the more unforgettable silver medals in Olympics history.
“The saddest snow angel in the Alps,” The New York Times wrote that day.
At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Jacobellis swerved off course in a semifinal heat and missed the final. And in 2014, in Sochi, Russia, she was leading a semifinal heat when she stumbled on a set of late-race rollers and missed the final again. In 2018, she returned to the final, another chance to grab a gold medal. She took fourth.
Between those public disappointments, she spent time winning World Cup trophies and world championships. When asked about the Olympics, she persistently downplayed their importance. When asked about 2006, she never felt the need to explain.
On Wednesday, asked about redemption — and finally able to exult in a gold medal — she kept her emotions in check. After all those years of trying to leave 2006 behind, she was not comfortable validating anyone’s notion of redemption.
“I never thought of it that way — that was not in my mind,” she said. “I wanted to just come here and compete. It would have been a nice sweet thing, but I think if I had tried to spin the thought of redemption then it’s kind of taking away focus on what’s the task at hand.”
But the 2006 spill may have altered her life, she acknowledged, maybe more than a gold medal then or now.
“It really shaped me into the individual that I am and kept me hungry, and really helped me keep fighting in the sport,” Jacobellis said. Had she won gold then, she said, “I probably would have quit the sport at that point, because I wasn’t really having fun with it.”
As the sun fell on her fifth Olympics, Jacobellis let others fill in the emotional gaps. Belle Brockhoff of Australia, a longtime friend and rival, was among the swarms of admirers congratulating her.
“She’s like, ‘I’m so happy that this happened for you, because I was little when I watched you in 2006,’” Jacobellis said.
Her teammate Stacy Gaskill, 21, said it meant everything to see Jacobellis finally win the top medal. As Gaskill talked about her victory, she began to cry.
“I don’t think there’s any words that can capture that moment,” Gaskill said. “For Lindsay to win in her fifth Games and be at the pinnacle of this sport so long and inspire so many young girls like me — she is the face of this sport.”