- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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NORTH VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- At approximately 4 p.m. PT, the sound of hundreds of fingers simultaneously hitting the delete key filled the press center at Vancouver's Cypress Mountain. Dozens of members of the international media were frantically erasing their leads and rewriting the story they would file on women's snowboardcross finals.
It's not just that American rider Lindsey Jacobellis, the focus of all their stories, failed to reclaim the Olympic gold medal she left lying on the homestretch of the cross course in Bardonecchia, Italy, four years ago, or that she finished fifth overall in her second Olympic appearance. No, win or lose, Jacobellis would be the story. Only it's difficult to write a story without quotes.
After standing in the finish area and watching Canadian racer Maelle Ricker, the current World Cup overall leader, win the final she had hoped to contest, Jacobellis walked past the television cameras, past a bevy of outstretched recording devices and brushed off the media. She did not grant interviews or attend the postrace news conference. NBC, refusing to take no for an answer, sent television cameras to follow Jacobellis, hoping to snag a few moments with her after mandatory drug testing.
It was ironic, considering Jacobellis has waited four years for the opportunity to rewrite her Olympic story. "That old story has followed me for four years," Jacobellis said earlier this year. "I've told it probably 1,000 times, and I don't know how else to tell it."
The story Jacobellis is referring to is her first draft, the one she submitted in Torino. Although it was an immediate best-seller, Jacobellis wasn't satisfied with the ending. Sure, the story had drama and heartbreak, but the Danbury, Conn., native is a happy-ending kind of gal. She couldn't allow her story to end with a sketched landing on the final jump in the final race of her Olympic debut. She couldn't let it end with a silver medal.
So she kept editing. She added another world championship, in 2007, boosting the dominance of her heroine (read: herself). And then, in 2009, she became the winningest snowboardcross athlete -- male or female -- in the history of the sport. She won back-to-back-to-back Winter X Games gold medals and a pair of World Cup titles. The only hardware missing from her trophy case was an Olympic gold medal.
Talk about setting up an ending.
Unfortunately, Jacobellis competes in a fickle sport that leaves little room for mistakes. So instead of joining her U.S. teammate Seth Wescott at Wednesday night's medal ceremony, Jacobellis is going home empty-handed. And although Tuesday's race did not provide her with the fairy-tale ending she was hoping for, Jacobellis realized it is the entire story, not any one chapter, that makes a book worth reading.
Which is why, an hour after the finals, Jacobellis held a news conference. She realized -- or perhaps someone close to her helped her to realize -- that her legacy in the sport of snowboardcross is not based on one race. Or even two races. It is based on years of pushing herself and the women around her and on the most dominant career the sport has seen. "It's amazing to have had such a history in the sport and made such a significant mark," Jacobellis said. "I'm only 23, and I've already accomplished so much. This is only one race. I just have to put everything into perspective."
Although it is only one race, Jacobellis acknowledged that she has a different reputation with the mainstream sports fan who watches her sport once every four years than she does with true fans of snowboarding. "I've had a great career, but sometimes I dominate and sometimes I fall into a funk where things like what happened today happen," she said. "It's not the end of the world. But I guess I don't have the best track record with the general public."
After qualifying in second place and less than one second behind Mellie Francon of Switzerland, Jacobellis dominated in her quarterfinal. But coming over the first jump in the final, she landed a bit front-footed and off-balance and began losing control of her board as she headed into the first banked turn. As she slipped off the course, Jacobellis gripped her helmet with her hands as she watched her three competitors disappear down the course, and her gold-medal hopes along with them.
Instead, the night belonged to Ricker, the hometown favorite. "In the final, I was just focused on the start," Ricker said. "I wanted to explode out of the gate so I could get comfortable, pick my line and stay focused until the finish."
And a happy ending it was.
Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Lindsey Jacobellis memorably fell short of gold in 2006. When it came time to rewrite that story in 2010, she fell short again. But for the world's most accomplished snowboardcross athlete, two races do not define her career.