By Lisa Dillman Los Angeles Times
SOCHI, Russia — It wasn’t the hint of danger from the challenging snowboard cross course that got into the head of Lindsey Jacobellis.
From Turin to Vancouver to Sochi, the problem could be something else for arguably the best rider never to win gold.
Jacobellis was far out in front in the semifinals of the women’s snowboard cross event Sunday at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. She crashed about three-quarters of the way down the course despite a tenacious effort to hold on.
“I thought I was going to be able to pull it off, and as soon as I hit that snow, it just slows you down so quickly,” Jacobellis said. “It makes your body continue going and then there’s no way to recover from it.”
Four years ago, she clipped a gate in Vancouver in the semifinals, an automatic disqualification. Eight years ago, she was way out front and famously tried a “method grab” of her board, crashed and lost the gold medal in Turin, taking silver.
On Sunday, Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic won gold, Dominique Maltais added to Canada’s medal count with a silver, and Chloe Trespeuch of France took the bronze.
Americans Faye Gulini and Jacobellis placed fourth and seventh. Their teammate, Jackie Hernandez, suffered a concussion after a crash in qualifying but was on hand to watch the final rounds in the afternoon.
“There’s worse things in life than not winning,” Jacobellis said. “… A lot of people can say what they want and put as many opinions out there — that don’t know how to do this sport — and that’s fine. It’s not going to affect how I view myself and how I look at my past resume for everything else.”
Gulini was passionate and analytical in describing the expectations placed upon Jacobellis.
“I think people don’t understand how much pressure is put on her,” Gulini said. “It breaks my heart because I think it takes the fun out of it just for this event. She loves the sport. She’s a phenomenal snowboarder. But it’s in her head.
“I’ve never had that kind of pressure on me. But I know that it just breaks her as an athlete and it makes it hard for her. She said her head was in it and so maybe it was just kind of a fluke mistake, and it’s a bummer if that’s the case because I think she deserves more.”
There is another possibility: schadenfreude.
“People are so, I feel like, ready to see her fail and that’s terrible,” Gulini said. “It’s not how things should be.”
Jacobellis had to deal with questions about her method-grab-gone-bad in Turin in the pre-event news conferences here, and dealt with them all in a professional manner while showing significant personal insight.
She even said that she might have even retired had the silver in Italy been gold.
“I think it has to do with previous Olympics,” Gulini said. “… in Vancouver, it was the No. 1-asked question: Oh, do you think Lindsey is going to do that again? Yada, yada, yada and how does she feel?
“She’s in a good spot. But pressure can kill a person, it really can. Like I said, I think she deserved more, maybe next time around.”
Jacobellis said another try in 2018 isn’t entirely out of the question.
“It is possible that I could be doing it,” she said. “We could have a team event and that’s another chance for a medal … it would be a great thing to be working together to win a medal as well have our individual chance.”