Why losers like Lindsey Jacobellis win at the Olympics

Headlines the world over are ripping Lindsey Jacobellis to shreds this morning after another loss in snowboardcross. Fair or not, one has to think all this negative attention would be leading to her death by a thousand cuts.

But one would be wrong.

Let’s review for a second: Jacobellis arrives at the Turin Olympics in 2006 as a favorite to win the exciting new sport of snowboardcross. She proceeds to dominate the competition and grabs a hefty lead in the final when self-imposed disaster strikes.

With the finish line in view–the gold medal in hand–she elects to do a little showboating on the final jump by attempting a method grab, and subsequently takes a tumble. As she’s climbing to her feet she’s passed by her closest competitor, yet she manages to salvage a shiny silver medal to show her grandkids.

OK. Enough history. Now the pop quiz. Had Jacobellis not fallen so foolishly in 2006 do you think we’d know who she is today? Wait. Let me answer that question with a question. Do you remember who passed her and won the gold? Me neither. But I get paid to cover this stuff. At least you have an excuse.

Mine is this: Let’s face facts. We love our losers in the Olympics. The agony of defeat is much more agonizing when one has to wait four more years just to have a shot at correcting the error. Waiting sucks. Time is worse than gravity. We don’t have the technology to beat it yet. The Olympics are one of our greatest reminders of this…and that’s why we watch.

Of course wins are great. But life’s most powerful lessons involve pain. And we prefer other people endure that pain for us. Another reason to love The Games.

But lose just the right way in the Olympics and it can be pretty profitable. Visa, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, and Dunkin Donuts have been lining up to throw money at Jacobellis in the buildup to the Vancouver Games.

Compare that to, say, I don’t know, Seth Wescott, who made the very unprofitable decision to cross the finish line first during his 2006 run in Turin. Man, how dumb is that guy? He just won again the other day. He even became the first snowboarder to win back-to-back gold medals. Which means give it another day or two and he’ll disappear.

But Jacobellis? Nah, we’re stuck with her for at least four more years. Because like I said, in the Olympics, the biggest losers win.

Photo: Squire via Getty Images