Jacobellis strikes Winter Olympic gold (finally)

Lindsey Jacobellis won the first U.S. gold medal of the Beijing Olympics, winning the snowboardcross gold. It's also the first gold of her career. Jacobellis is the oldest U.S. woman to win gold.

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February 9, 2022 - 9:09 AM

Lindsey Jacobellis from the US during the women's cross snowboarding event of the 2018 Winter Olympics in the Bokwang Snow Phoenix Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Feb. 16, 2018. (Angelika Warmuth/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS) Photo by TNS

BEIJING (AP) — Lindsey Jacobellis is finally an Olympic gold medalist.

Let that sink in for a moment because Jacobellis has been trying for 16 years.

Jacobellis helped make the wild sport of snowboardcross famous. Who could forget her premature celebration as she approached the finish line in the 2006 Turin Games, an ill-timed board grab that sent her tumbling out of the lead? In a way, she became one of the best-known silver medalists of all time.

Now Jacobellis will be remembered as the first American gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics. She reached the top of the podium hours after Mikaela Shiffrin had another stunning early exit on the Alpine ski hill.

Jacobellis rode hard to the finish of the snowboardcross final on Wednesday, beating Chloe Trespeuch of France and covering her heart with her hands as she slowed.

Jacobellis was 20 when she made the mistake in Turin. Now 36 and in her fifth Olympics, she became the oldest U.S. woman to win a gold. The 16 years is also the longest gap between medals for any U.S. woman.

She never stopped reaching for a gold medal.

“They can keep talking about it all they want because it really shaped me into the individual that I am,” Jacobellis said. “It kept me hungry and really kept me fighting in this sport.”

A glum Olympics for the Americans actually began to brighten a few hours earlier when California snowboarders Chloe Kim and Shaun White, the defending gold medalists, had joyful rides through the halfpipe. Kim earned the top spot in women’s qualifying while White, a three-time gold medalist in his fifth and final Olympics, was fourth in the men’s qualifying.

Jacobellis’ performance lit up the Genting Snow Park.

“This feels incredible because the level that all the women are riding at today is so much higher than it was 16 years ago,” Jacobellis said.

Jacobellis said she’d advise young riders to not let mistakes define them. “Especially if you’ve made it to this stage, you’re a winner. And look at what you’ve learned from the experience and take that with you later in life.”

SHIFFRIN’S LETDOWN

Mikaela Shiffrin arrived in Beijing heavily favored to add to her collection of two Olympic gold medals but instead is 0 for 2, a shocking development that has left her shaken.

She skidded out just a few seconds into the slalom, a quicker exit than two days earlier when she crashed out of the super-G.

“I’ve never been in this position before and I don’t know how to handle it,” said the teary-eyed Shiffrin, who won the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games and the giant slalom at the 2018 Pyeonchgang Games.

The seventh racer on Wednesday, she began losing her balance and teetering out of control just four seconds and four gates in. She swerved too far as she veered to her right and she ended up way wide of the fifth gate.

“I was pushing and maybe it was past my limit.”

There was nothing left to do but ski to the side of the course known as the Ice River, click out of her skis and sit on the ground, her head resting in her arms.

“GS and slalom, those were my biggest focuses. So it really feels like a lot of work for nothing,” she said.

Shiffrin had planned on entering all five individual Alpine races. Her next opportunity could come Friday in the super-G, but she raised doubts about that.

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