Eight years ago, Lindsey Jacobellis was the young face of snowboardcross, a sport brand new to the Olympics at the time. Her face was on cereal boxes and in Visa commercials, yet during the event finals in Torino, Jacobellis crashed after a celebratory jump near the finish, squandering a sure gold medal.
“It was just so overwhelming for an 18-year-old to approach the Olympics and how much stress the media had put on me. I didn’t like the sport at all going into it and I would have almost been happy if I would have won and just had it over with,” says Jacobellis.
Heading into the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Jacobellis still has the sponsorships and remains the face of U.S. women’s snowboardcross, but she’s coming off an ACL injury that took her out for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. And despite being the most decorated female snowboardcross athlete in the history of the sport, she’s still seeking that gold medal.
Before tearing the ACL in her left knee while practicing for the 2012 Winter X Games, Jacobellis was atop the leaderboard in the World Cup standings and was poised for her record 5th-straight gold in X Games—a feat no other female X Games athlete had achieved.
“The hardest thing about being away is that you’re not on tour doing everything and worrying that everyone’s going to be getting so much better and you’re just going to be left behind,” says Jacobellis.
The early returns, however, suggest she hasn’t lost a step. In a December team event, Jacobellis placed second with teammate Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, despite breaking her thumb in the qualifiers. In the two World Cup competitions since, she finished on the podium both times, taking gold and then bronze.
“I just didn’t know that was how it was going to feel when I was in the gym, struggling through therapy sessions. But once I got back out there and started feeling more confident, it was like I really never left,” says Jacobellis.
Despite being a heavy favorite in her two Olympic appearances, Jacobellis struggled to duplicate her success from X Games and World Cup competition.
After the gold medal slipped through her hands in Torino, Jacobellis got another shot at the 2010 Games in Vancouver but came up even shorter, disqualified after crashing in the semifinals.
Of the crashes, she said, “The first time in Torino was definitely my mistake, but then in Vancouver, it was just kind of what happens in boardercross: you collide with somebody in the air. I lost balance and I didn’t have control going into a banked turn, so I wasn’t able to hold the turn together. That kind of stuff just happens.”
When asked about snowboardcross’ unpredictability, Jacobellis says, “[It's] really great for spectators to watch, so that helps push our sport into the viewer’s eye, but when you have that many uncontrollable variables, no matter how good you are, sometimes things happen that are out of your control.”
Control is a theme for an older, wiser Jacobellis, 28, who was 18 and 23 for her first two Olympic appearances.
“I’m not really letting a lot of things get to me and draining me in a negative way. I kind of just focus on the things I can really control and worry about that. I know that other things in life are going to be thrown my way. That’s how I go through life, not just boardercross,” she says.
In the upcoming X Games and then the Winter Games in Sochi, Jacobellis will be favored to add to her impressive collection of snowboardcross hardware, but in her sport, anything can happen. —Justin Park