PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — In many ways, Lindsey Jacobellis walked away from these Olympics the same as she has from all the previous ones.
She is still the best-known figure in her sport.
She is still without a gold medal.
The 32-year-old American had the lead in the final of women’s snowboardcross Friday, one day short of 12 years after she cemented her name in Olympic lore as the showboat snowboarder who gave away a victory near the finish line because she started celebrating too soon.
This loss was more straightforward.
Jacobellis raced to an early lead on a course where it’s better to use the draft from other riders and slingshot past them. She got passed by the eventual winner, Italy’s Michela Moioli, on a curve about halfway down the course. She got pushed to the side and raced the rest of the course all alone. Without a drafting partner, she could not make up ground, and ended up finishing fourth — behind silver medalist Julia Pereira de Sousa Mablieau of France, and .03 seconds back of Eva Samkova, who slid across the finish and now has a bronze to go with her 2014 gold.
“I mean, I could be upset about it, but where is that going to get me?” Jacobellis said. “Anything can happen in boardercross, and I didn’t get injured today. The fact I’m still walking out of here is great.”
In a sport where the riders play bumper cars with their bodies after being literally dumped out of the starting gate, then taking jumps at 40 mph (65 kph), that is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
And Jacobellis has been the best and most-durable rider for more than a decade in a game that many equate to a crapshoot.
She has nine Winter X Games titles, 29 World Cup wins and 49 podiums in 84 World Cup starts. She is dedicated to bringing more girls into her sport to ensure the future, both at the grass roots and on the world stage.
She is also the person who made this sport famous.
It was at snowboardcross’ Olympic debut in 2006, when she was 20, and a good 5 seconds clear of the field as she moved toward the final jump in the gold-medal race. Celebrating too soon, she tweaked her board — a method grab — and went tumbling on the landing. Tanja Frieden cruised by for the gold. Jacobellis limped in for the silver.
“It definitely brought more attention to the sport,” Jacobellis said. “How often do you remember the second-place medalist?”
In her case, every time the Olympics roll around.
“It’s hard, because she gets scrutinized once every four years by the majority of the American media, and no one pays attention to the wonderful things that happen in the interim,” said Seth Wescott, the two-time Olympic champion, who watched the race from his home in Whistler. “She is, hands-down, the greatest week-in, week-out competitor there is in snowboardcross. I’m sure she’s a little bummed right now. But she ran a helluva race.”
If she was bummed, Jacobellis certainly did not let on during her 45-minute trip through the interview area, where she was hit with different versions of the same question, time and again.
“It’s definitely something I haven’t won, but it’s something that’s not going to define me,” she said. “I still have the silver from Torino. My mom keeps that. It’s my mom’s birthday, I’m excited I wasn’t hurt, she’s probably not having a heart attack and I made it to the finals.”
This was, in fact, the first time she’s raced in the Olympic final since that day in Italy. Her last two attempts for gold ended with wipe-outs in the semifinals, and she ended up winning the consolation race each time.
This time, the gold went to Moioli, who was racing as well as anyone this season, and now has an Olympic title to go with four World Cup victories in 2017-18.
“She made history of the sport, really,” the 22-year-old winner said of Jacobellis. “I am a baby. But I am happy to race with girls like her, and she’s so strong.”
And Jacobellis was happy to be racing with her — even if it was Moioli walking away with a prize that she still doesn’t have.
“There are plenty of other athletes who’ve never acquired that Olympic gold but they still keep qualifying and still keep coming back,” said Jacobellis, who has no immediate plans to retire. “Because what are they truly? They’re Olympic contenders, Olympic athletes. They’re role models, and someone who want to give back to the sport.”