Lindsey Jacobellis on the comeback (not redemption) trail to Sochi
Lindsey Jacobellis is to reaching the podium in snowboard cross as Morgan Freeman is to narrating movies. You just expect it.
Over the course of Jacobellis’ storied career, in which she’s dominated her sport for over a decade, the 28-year-old has become the poster child for winning: eight Winter X Games gold medals, 26 World Cup victories, three World Cup championships and Grand Prix’s.
The blonde-turned-brown haired Jacobellis is now on her way to her third Olympics after successful selection events, winning in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada – her first podium in nearly two years – and coming in third at Vallnord, Andorra.
In Jacobellis’ Olympic debut in 2006, she won silver in a race that has defined her career. From the moment that race ended through the next seven years, Jacobellis’ life has been filled with as many twists and turns as a snowboard cross course.
During those 2006 Games, when boarder cross made its Olympic debut too, Jacobellis had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. In the final stretch of the finals, she attempted a trick on the second-to-last jump, only to fall and surrender the lead. Since then, she’s been repeatedly criticized for showboating that people say cost her the gold.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Lindsey Jacobellis' infamous 2006 snowboard cross run
Four years later at the Vancouver Games, Jacobellis crashed in the semifinals, finishing fifth, leaving her once again chasing for gold.
Most recently, at the 2012 Winter X Games, Jacobellis was looking to become the first-ever woman to five-peat at the annual competition. However, during a training run, she overshot a jump and tore the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She had surgery four days later. Her season was over, subsequently missing the entire pre-Olympic season.
Jacobellis’ first race since that injury was nearly two years later and was an Olympic qualifying event in Montafon, Austria. Jacobellis finished seventh. Her return to competition went surprisingly unnoticed, being overshadowed by none other than injuries: two-time gold medalist Seth Wescott didn’t compete because he was rehabbing from a torn ACL, Nate Holland broke his clavicle and Alex Pullin withdrew due to back problems.
After her knee injury sustained at the X Games, the Danbury, Conn., native was away from competition and out of the spotlight for 22 months. Most ACL rehabs do not take this long, but in December 2012, Jacobellis had to have a second surgery.
“It was a fluke,” she said about needing a second surgery. “The first surgery just didn’t take. It was very unexplained and it was something that didn’t go very well and it had to do with what the doctor had done.”
This happens in only three percent of surgeries where the graf didn’t take.
“It was giving me a 90 percent knee once it heeled and realized that wasn’t going to be good enough so I decided to do it all over again.”
She went to rehab in Park City, Utah at the Center for Excellence.
“I’m making sure I’m not getting any set backs and really pushing through any hard times and really looking to the long term goal.”
She has been cleared by her doctor to do everything, with no restrictions, including a lot of plyometrics and weight lifting, but she does have lingering affects.
“Every now and then my calf muscle starts hurting only because that was the muscle that started to overcompensate and work a lot harder,” Jacobellis explains. “I think that’s just natural, so it’s just something I need to warm up more and really stretch out.”
Jacobellis’ first time back on snow was in June.
“It was a little nerve wracking not knowing how it would feel and how my body would respond, but everything was positive and very good and when I got down to New Zealand, I was back to full racing on a course and it didn’t feel like any time has passed.”
In New Zealand, Lindsey says she did “really well.” She trained for six days without taking a break.
“There was a full course there and I was riding the whole thing. I never had any pain or any time where I didn’t feel uncomfortable on the course so it was a great moment for me.”
With so much time off in an Olympic year, Jacobellis missed a lot of the of the pre-Olympic season, which for her was hard to sit back and watch people race hoping you’re not missing out too much.
“After training with [my team] in New Zealand and seeing how the rest of the field was lining up, I wasn’t too concerned. I felt like it was still very possible to get back to where I was and pass that.”
Jacobellis revealed she had the aggression, drive and strength.
While Jacobellis was rehabbing, rather than watching races, she filled the time with making hats, which got old and eventually took up making jewellry.
Now that Jacobellis has qualified for her third consecutive Olympics, she knows what she needs to do.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Long Road to Sochi: Lindsey Jacobellis
“I don’t think about how I need to finish. I just need to take one race at a time and see how things will stack up before I make myself stress.”
During her rehab, Jacobellis had a chance to visit the Olympic boarder cross in Sochi at a World Cup test event, where she was helping out as a coach.
“I got to see almost the entire course except for the final jump because I couldn’t snowboard. I was basically just walking around. It was fun coaching and it was fun the guys on the team would radio down to me asking me what I thought about this section, how it’s been running and wanted feedback from me.”
When discussion of whether or not Sochi would be Jacobellis’ final Olympics because of recent injuries, she shrugged it off.
“I can’t look at it that way. I still have a lot to give to this sport and I still love racing. This was a minor hiccup and my first injury in 10 years racing. There might be a team event, team race in Korea so it’s not something I would just give up on especially with what my sport has been built up to.
Looking back on that infamous final in Torino, Jacobellis acknowledges that being second certainly has changed her career path.
“If I won the gold then I definitely would have quit because I wasn’t having as much fun racing boarder cross because of how much expectations the media had put on me at such a young age. It definitely lost the charm and took out the fun for me and that was a really sad thing for to ever realize that that was ever an issue.”
If Jacobellis had quit she would have given up on a lot more titles and not be pushing the women’s field to where it is today.
Her crash in the semifinals in in Vancouver is in the past, with Jacobellis saying she “never” thinks about it.
Regardless of past experiences and recent injuries, Jacobellis doesn’t use the r-word when thinking about competing in Sochi.
“It’s not necessarily a redemption,” she says. “It’s another time for me to win. It’s more me trying to make everything come together. Sometimes I crash because I go for it and it doesn’t always work out for me. That’s really how it’s gone.”
In Sochi, winning gold isn’t necessarily her top priority.
“It’s important to just race my best and give it whatever I can give at that moment to the best of my ability,” she says. “If I don’t win gold, it’s not going to reflect I’m a bad racer by any means with having the best track record of any snowboard cross racer in history. So it’s a matter if it’s going to line up and work for me.”
At the 2014 Winter Games, snowboard cross will implement a new format, going from four to six riders, expanding the field and potential dangers in an already dangerous sport that Jacobellis describes as a combination of “roller derby and motocross” on snow. But Jacobellis doesn’t mind.
“When I originally started boarder cross it was always six so that’s what I grew up with. I actually enjoy six more.”
The new format has had its critics, with some saying that less experienced riders will be competing, adding a sense of danger.
“That’s always a risk. You just have to get out ahead and get away from them.”
Sounds like a simple plan, which has typically lead Jacobellis to the podium, and meeting expectations.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympian: Lindsey Jacobellis