Falling Forward: Lindsey Jacobellis
In January 2012, Lindsey Jacobellis won an FIS World Cup in Veysonnaz, Switzerland. One week later, she tore the ACL in her left knee in a training run at the X Games in Aspen, Colo., and missed nearly two years of competition.
That win was her 24th World Cup victory -- one in a cache of wins greater than any other athlete has amassed in boardercross. Since recovering from her knee injury, Jacobellis returned to claim another victory at a World Cup in Lake Louise, Canada, in December 2013. Jacobellis, 28, has also won at X Games seven times and the FIS world championship three. There is no arguing she is the most dominant athlete her sport has seen.
But for her, the losses have always felt fresher in her mind.
"When I was younger, I would win and then be like, 'Oh god, I have to go on to my next race,'" Jacobellis says. "I'd pack up everything and not enjoy what was happening in that moment. If things didn't go my way, I could really stress that situation for so long, to the point where it wasn't healthy. ... A loss would hang with me longer than a win."
Over her career, Jacobellis has a nearly .500 win percentage in FIS races. At X Games, she's 7-for-10. Those are incredible stats in any sport, but especially in one as fickle as boardercross, in which a change in wind speed, a mistimed pass or the misstep of a competitor can mean the difference between first and DNF.
However, Jacobellis was never able to look at her wins column as half-full. She focused instead on the races she didn't win, the three X Games gold medals that got away and Olympic moments she says have defined her for much too long.
"I was extremely hard on myself," says Jacobellis, who spent 10 months living in Park City, Utah, rehabbing the second of two ACL reconstruction surgeries. "Still to this day, I put more pressure on myself than the media could, than my parents could, because I want to see myself achieve. When I go to the Olympics, I would love to win for my country. But ultimately, I want to win for myself. It's something I want to accomplish."
Jacobellis was 20 during the 2006 Torino Winter Games and says she felt like she was carrying the expectations of the world down that Olympic boardercross course. When she fell short of the finish line, and of earning the gold medal she had been expected to win, she responded the only way she knew how: by replaying that moment in her mind more times than NBC ever could and by beating herself up for losing focus. Today she has learned to accept mistakes, to learn from silver medals and to move on to the next race.
"It was very hard for me to get over that moment," Jacobellis says of her fall in Torino, "because every time I would race for years after, I would feel like I had to prove over and over and over again that I had the right to be there, that it wasn't a fluke that I was in the Olympics.
"I made a huge mistake, so it was hard to figure out that it was OK it happened -- it was a mistake and move forward. I didn't leave the sport, I'm still contributing to the sport and I still want to take the sport somewhere."
But had she won in 2006, Jacobellis says that wouldn't have been the case.
"If I won gold in 2006, I would have quit snowboarding," Jacobellis says. "I had won everything -- junior worlds, X Games, World Cups -- and that would have been the last thing. All the pressure that had been put on me those three years, from when boardercross was announced as a sport in the Olympics to that day, would be gone.
"It was a lot for a 20-year-old to handle. In that moment, I would have enjoyed the fact that I wouldn't have to train or have that ... mental stress. I would have cashed out, done the Wheaties thing, gone home, hung out with friends, gone surfing and lived the dream."
It's difficult to imagine boardercross without Jacobellis, a woman who, win or lose, has held our interest for nearly a decade, stealing the spotlight for a sport that otherwise might have faded into the shadows of halfpipe and slopestyle.
But that's not what happened. Instead, the eight years since that day have been filled with wins, losses, memories and the hindsight needed to appreciate what has been, because of that day.
"When I didn't win, I was like, 'Well, I definitely can't quit now. I don't want to be remembered like this,'" Jacobellis says. "I still wanted to be in the sport and contribute and show people that I can win. Will it get me to a gold in Russia? I don't know. But ... I did not enjoy riding and racing then as much as I do now. I'm having so much fun. It would be sad to think I could have taken that all away if I'd stopped at 20."
That includes her experience at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where she was disqualified before reaching the medal round, and the past two years she has spent enduring the most grueling rehab of her career. The best things in life, she has learned, are those that are hardest earned.
In Sochi, Jacobellis will have her third opportunity to win the one title that has eluded her, but today she says an Olympic win will not mean the end of her career, nor will it be the most important medal in her case.
"If I were to win the gold, I would be more proud still of my silver because it is what has led me to the gold," Jacobellis says. "What I've learned is to appreciate the moment, to let the excitement of a win carry through for a longer period than I did when I was younger. I like how I've noticed that change within myself and how I have applied it within my life. I can't still be angry at myself because that moment has molded me into the person and athlete and racer that I am today."
And it is why she's still here.