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BILL PLASCHKE

Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis remains defiant in clutch after slide

By grabbing her board during the final jump of her disqualified run, the U.S. snowboard cross racer shows she still values style over substance after Turin gaffe.

February 17, 2010|Bill Plaschke

From Vancouver, Canada — The skid occurred at the top of the hill. The marks were left at the bottom.

Lindsey Jacobellis' ride for Olympic redemption slid off the Cypress Mountain course in the first turn of the snowboard cross semifinals Tuesday, but she still grabbed the last word.

The last two words, actually.

Take that.

Remember how four years ago in Turin, Italy, Jacobellis blew a gold medal when she attempted a trick on her final jump, eating snow and finishing second? Remember how she was criticized for putting snowboard style ahead of gold-medal substance?

Well, on Tuesday, she finished with another trick, clutching her board during the final jump of her disqualified run, finishing her eventually fifth-place Olympic performance with something called a "truck-driver grab."

Eighteen wheels of defiance.

"Since everyone was waiting for me to come down, they'd be watching, I figured I would have some fun, show them I still have a deep passion for the sport," she said later. "If you haven't snowboarded before, maybe you should, because it's pretty fun."

Fun? The world's most decorated female snowboard cross racer fails to win a gold medal twice in two Olympics and still insists on showing everyone she's having fun?

Jacobellis, 24, whose blond curls and blue eyes overshadow her granite jaw, wasn't finished making a point.

After the semifinals, unlike virtually every other Olympian in the world who has just competed in a medal event, she walked past several dozen media members waiting and shouting for her in the snow beyond the finish line.

Not only didn't she stop, she didn't even look, pointedly walking away from the kinds of folks who ripped her four years ago, folks who she believes will never understand the culture of her game.

Officials from the U.S. Olympic Committee, who refreshingly demand accountability from their athletes, coaxed her back into a news conference, but it wasn't easy.

"I found all my friends and family. . . . I was anxious to go see them. . . . I had the doping control. . . . I kind of wanted to get all that done with," Jacobellis explained of her media snub, even though she could have finished her mandated interview in five minutes.

In its 12th year at the Olympics, snowboarding continues to grow in ways we never imagined. It is now officially a bratty kid who is convinced we will never understand it.

"Seriously, mainstream media just doesn't get it sometimes," said Nate Holland, another Olympic snowboard cross racer. "It's not always about winning. It's about fun, style, showing your stuff."

But once every four years, the sport is put under a national spotlight and judged like all other American sports, by standings and a scoreboard. The boarders may not like that harsher glare, but they certainly don't have any trouble cashing checks from sponsors who do.

This is what had Jacobellis seemingly so upset Tuesday, that she is only being judged by that spotlight, only by the two moments of lost Olympic control instead of two consecutive No. 1 World Cup rankings.

"It's unfortunate that the rest of the world only sees this race and the one four years ago. I guess I don't have a great track record with the general public," she said.

She gave away her first shot at Olympic gold, but at least this time, the mountain took it. Going too fast after the first jump, she lost control in the first turn and skidded out of bounds.

She threw up her hands when she realized where she was. She then placed those hands on her helmet and crouched in frustration.

"I went off line into the first bank turn, I was just trying to recover . . . but my board just finally caught up," she said. "I was like well, nothing you can do about it now."

And so she continued down the mountain with a message.

"I just felt like doing a nice, fun truck-driver grab, that's the spirit that it is," Jacobellis said.

"It's a bummer, then I came off and I was like, well, I still can have fun in some way."

The eventual winner, Canada's Maelle Ricker, did no such trick as she floated into the snow to a mountain-sized roar from the home folk.

"I was thinking about absorbing the jump," said Ricker.

Not that she would ever criticize Jacobellis. Nobody in the snowboarding community will. She actually gained credibility with her attempted trick four years ago. She will gain more now.

"It's not about the finish for us, it never has been," said Nick Baumgartner, another Olympic snowboard cross racer. "It's all about the journey. It's all about taking the wild ride."

If you're the best snowboard cross racer in the world, the real trick here is to turn that ride into gold. It is the one trick Lindsey Jacobellis has not yet figured out.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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