BARDONECCHIA, Italy - Alone in the clear, Lindsey Jacobellis could have practically crawled to the finish line and won.
After an Olympic-sized flub, she probably wishes she had.
Coasting to what should have been a runaway victory Friday, the 20-year-old American grabbed her board on the second-to-last jump before the finish line. Inexplicably — and some say inexcusably — she fell.
“I was caught up in the moment,” Jacobellis said.
While she scrambled to her feet, Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden caught up and sped past Jacobellis to become the first champion in the strange and wild sport of Olympic women’s snowboardcross. Jacobellis settled for silver.
Then, the debate began.
“She definitely styled that a little too hard,” U.S. snowboarding coach Peter Foley said, after looking at a frame-by-frame breakdown of the jump taken by Associated Press photographers.
Jacobellis was so far ahead as she approached the fateful jump that Frieden couldn’t even be seen in the early frames of the AP photo breakdown.
So, the question is, should Jacobellis have gone for the so-called “backside method grab” she attempted at the end — a trick she rarely tries and one that included a flashy 60-degree twist right in front of the grandstands?
Sandra Behne / Getty Images
Jacobellis grabs her board during the second-to-last jump. She fell after landing and had to settle for silver.
A few hours later, in a conference call, she held to that point, but also conceded there might have been some showboating going on.
“I was having fun,” she said. “Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens.”
She went tumbling after the jump, which she had executed cleanly in her four previous runs through qualifying and the early rounds of finals.
“She just tweaked it too hard,” Foley said after looking at the AP photos. “Definite styling on that jump. That’s a good stable grab but she pulled it across too far, definitely, for it to be safe.”
Of course, even the most rigid of riders would admit that snowboarding is about style. Jacobellis fits that mold. She was ubiquitous on Visa commercials back in the States, has done her fair share of photo shoots and doesn’t shirk from the publicity that comes with being one of America’s stars in the sport.
In the leadup to the Olympics, Jacobellis also had dreams of competing in the halfpipe, where the kind of grab that cost her on the snowboardcross course is much more common.
Men’s gold medalist Seth Wescott does it and so does his flashy teammate, Nate Holland.
“She’s 20 years old,” Foley said. “If she got caught up in the moment, she got caught up in the moment. It’s not the end of the world for me. When I saw her go off the jump, I didn’t see anything weird about it. I didn’t go, like, ’Oh, no!’ Especially because Nate and Seth grab method almost every run.”
See Olympic athletes crash and tumble on snow and ice.