But woe unto the one who fails to seal the deal.
Think about how much ridicule Michael Jordan risked when he struck the pose, his right hand frozen in salute even before his game-winning shot dropped in the closing seconds and sucked the life out of the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
Or how about the iconic photo of Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston? Before that fight 40 years ago, some people feared Liston might exact revenge for his loss in their first match by trying to kill his brash young opponent. But Ali dropped him and then, instead of heading for a neutral corner to pray that Liston wouldn’t get up, he stood there, right fist cocked defiantly and screamed, “Get up and fight, sucker!”
That’s what Jacobellis tried to do in the Olympic women’s snowboardcross Friday.
It’s known as showing off, showboating, throwing down, flaunting, taunting, hot-dogging and a dozen other names. In this case, Jacobellis’ final big-air bonanza was intended as a parting gift, something for all those people who sat, whistled and stomped their feet in a shivering grandstand for hours to remember her and her sport by.
It’s just that after failing to pull it off, Jacobellis wouldn’t admit even trying.
One moment, the 20-year-old star was on her way to a gold medal, well clear of her three rivals, taking off on the next-to-last jump in the sport’s first-ever Olympic final. And in the next moment, Jacobellis lay sprawled in the snow, one of those “this-can’t-be-happening!” moments that occur only once in a lifetime.
The question she answered over and over Friday, to nobody’s satisfaction ultimately but her own, is what happened in between.
“I was trying to, you know, keep my board under me, but after a while, you know, your legs get so tired. I just tried to grab it to keep my body stabilized. But,” Jacobellis added, finally gathering herself, “it didn’t work out.”
She went a little further a few hours later during a conference call — “I was having fun and that’s what snowboarding is,” Jacobellis said — but still wouldn’t fess up.
Attempting what’s called a “backside method” on that next-to-last jump, Jacobellis reached back to grab her board, tugged too hard and pulled it too far behind her. Upon landing, she caught an edge and tumbled, then scrambled back to her feet and made it to the finish line in just enough time to win a silver.
Looking on from just behind the finish line, Seth Westcott, the U.S. men’s team snowboardcrosser who won the gold just a day earlier, was wrestling with mixed emotions. His girlfriend just happens to be Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden, who sped past Jacobellis for the gold.
See Olympic athletes crash and tumble on snow and ice.