In 2006, a bubbly, blonde, 20-year-old Lindsey Jacobellis headed to Italy for the Olympic debut of snowboard cross as an easy gold-medal favorite. Since the start of her racing career, Jacobellis has handily dominated every event she's entered, winning 27 FIS World Cup events (with another dozen or so second- and third-place finishes), three world championship titles, and eight X Games gold medals—the most of any woman in X Games history, winter or summer. But on that day in Torino, the world watched as Jacobellis, after winning every heat by a mile, made the most classic and crushing athletic mistake possible: thinking the race is won before the race is over.
Coming into the last set of jumps in the gold-medal round, way out ahead of the pack, Jacobellis threw an unnecessary victory-lap method air, falling and skidding into a disappointing silver medal.
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By the 2010 Olympic Games, the snowboard cross world had caught up with Jacobellis and those wins didn’t come as easily; Canadian women like Maelle Ricker and Dominique Maltais were closing the gap more often than not. While still a podium favorite in Vancouver, Jacobellis wasn't the shoo-in she'd been four years earlier, and a fall in the semifinals took her out of medal contention.
Two years later, the girl from Danbury, Connecticut, came across another bout of unfortunate luck. At the 2012 X Games, where she was looking to five-peat, Jacobellis tore both her medial collateral ligament (MCL) and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee when she overshot a jump in practice. While ACL injuries are par for the course in sports like snowboard cross, this injury proved to be her biggest challenge yet, placing her firmly on the sidelines for nearly two years.
Ten months post surgery, when most riders are back on snow, Jacobellis was heading back to the operating room to re-repair her ACL, which had slowly stretched since her surgery. Two years is a long time to sit anything out, especially the fast-paced world of snowboard cross, but humbled by injury, experience, and age, Jacobellis has emerged with a new perspective.
"What I've been taking away from this injury is really living in the moment and making sure I'm putting every bit of effort into what I'm doing so I'm fully there, in the situation, and 100-percent aware," Jacobellis told TEAM USA. By the looks of it, this newly crimson-haired 28-year-old is riding in the moment and kicking ass doing so. In her second race back on snow, Jacobellis reclaimed her spot on top of the podium, winning the Lake Louise, Canada, FIS World Cup and following that up with a pair of third places and her eighth X Games gold.
But this time around, the woman who is known to growl in the start gate is looking to put the fun back in the race. "If I won the gold then [in 2006], I definitely would have quit, because I wasn't having as much fun racing boarder cross because of how [many] expectations the media had put on me at such a young age," Jacobellis told NBC Olympics reflectively. "It definitely lost the charm and took out the fun for me."
As Jacobellis rejoins the pace, we'll see if the third time's a charm and she can ride away with the gold medal that's had her name on it for eight years.
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