By Sean Radich
Friday, 17 February 2006
I am still wondering if my eyes were deceiving me. Did I really see what I saw? And if so, the result of what I saw is unthinkable…unfathomable. There she was, Lindsey Jacobellis, the golden-haired girl-next-door, comfortably leading the final of the Women’s Snowboardcross by several seconds and with just a hundred metres left to go before she would take certain Gold and the fourth straight win for the USA. But then, coming over the second last drop-off kicker Jacobellis decided that with the Gold just about in the bag, it was the right time to show off to the adoring crowd and cheering teammates. And so, as she floated over the jump her back leg was cocked out and the backside rail grabbed in a classic Method Air, tweaked to the fullest. Wow, that is a cool way to celebrate winning Gold! But, Jacobellis held the tweak too long in that all pervading snowboarder quest for killer style, got the board back down on the snow in time, but landed uncomfortably on the heelside edge…which forced her to crash straight on her back and slide almost off the course. And then from behind, Steve Bradbury style, Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden sped past, saw Jacobellis struggling to get back up, launched over the last jump smoothly and pumped her fists in the air knowing that she had clutched victory from the jaws of defeat, and in doing so, broken the stranglehold the USA has had on snowboarding medals at these Olympics.
The Swiss Team at the bottom of the track went ballistic, and there was a stunned silence among the Americans as Jacobellis limped across the line in second. And over the line in third came Canadian Dominique Maltais who had crashed near the start and also couldn’t believe her luck that she was able to sneak away with bronze. Clearly, Tanja could not believe her golden fortune, and she said that coming into the last corner she was stoked just to get silver, but when she discovered she could win Gold she was ecstatic.
US legend and member of the 1998 Halfpipe Team, Todd Richards has famously said that if you can’t pull a Method Air you don’t yet know how to snowboard. But I don’t think being unable to snowboard is Jacobellis’ problem – she was riding great all day and any other time could tweak out the perfect Meth, but today, something must have gone wrong.
But if the actual Method-Air-to-crash was bizarre enough in itself, the blatant lies that Jacobellis came out with in the post-race press conference had all the snowboarding media shaking their heads with incredulity. Despite persistent questioning from several mainstream and snowboarding media, Jacobellis stuck with the claim that her Method Air so close to the finish line was just a means to stabilise her in the air, because she had been having trouble off that second last jump all day. But she had not pulled a Method of either that jump or any other all day long. And when the two other medallists were questioned if they had had any trouble over that same jump due to its shape, the speed they were travelling or the mystical wind than no-one else in Bardonecchia except Jacobellis seemed to notice, they glanced nervously at Jacobellis before answering “No”. Funny that.
But it was not just untruths coming from Jacobellis herself; her coach Pete Foley backed up her statements by saying, “She just cut an edge. I don’t think she was showing off. She always grabs on the jumps.” But I guess it is the role of a coach to support the team…in whatever way is required, even if it means a little bit of supportive propaganda here and there. Thankfully, I get the feel from the media centre here at Bardonecchia that even the mainstream sports writers, whose closest experience to snowboarding is standing in the press pit at the bottom of the course, can smell the scent of a cover up and their reports should hopefully reflect this.
The final itself was a great example of how that day’s racing had unfolded. Cold temperatures and light snowfall persisted all today, and much more than yesterday the four-woman heats provided lots of “thrills and spills” with several collisions and lead changes. In the final the women pulled out of the gates close together, but not too long afterwards Maltais caught an edge and was thrown almost off the course. Jacobellis thence quickly moved to the lead and about a quarter of the way down Maelle Ricker and Frieden had some light contact between their boards, slowing them down and allowing Jacobellis to increase her lead. In the mad scramble to catch up Ricker pushed too hard and about halfway down the track completely flew off the side of one sharp banked corner and smashed into the second row of protective netting (it was a bit like the great crash of ‘The Hermanator’ two Olympics ago), putting her out of the race for good. By this stage Jacobellis was comfortably in the lead – maybe fifty metres in front – and she had enough time to look back and see how far in front she was. And then after the last corner came that fateful manoeuvre…and that amazing win. And as Frieden said of her win, “It was just amazing. You are never sure until you get to the very end, and this is something that I have learned in (Snowboardcross) races”. I guess this really is an example of “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings!” as I’m sure Steve Bradbury would be willing to tell you.
And in a disappointment to Australasians, both Emily Thomas from Australia and Julianne Bray from New Zealand failed to qualify for the 16-woman finals, placing 21st and 20th respectively based on their qualification times.
Report by Sean Radich in Bardonecchia, Italy.