Tale of the tape: Lindsey Jacobellis vs. Dominique Maltais
They’ve both routinely found themselves on snowboard cross podiums for the better part of a decade. Yet neither one of them has an Olympic gold medal to show for it.
Not yet anyway.
American Lindsey Jacobellis and Canadian Dominique Maltais are both set for their third Olympic appearance. They both have one medal to their credit – both from the 2006 Torino Games – but no gold. And they both endured disappointments four years ago in Vancouver that kept them out of medal contention.
Eight years after Jacobellis and Maltais first arrived at the Olympics, the two leading ladies of snowboard cross appear to be on a crash course for a gold medal showdown, going for the ultimate prize that has eluded them so long.
But for at least one of them, the wait will continue.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Long Road to Sochi: Lindsey Jacobellis
Jacobellis’s story is well-documented. Easily the most dominant rider of the 2006 Torino Games, she was well on her way to victory in the big final. With the finish line – and the gold medal – in her sight, Jacobellis attempted a stylish trick known as a “method” in an act of showboating on the final jump. The move ended in disaster, as Jacobellis crashed on the landing and saw her huge lead evaporate. It gave Sweden’s Tanja Freden enough time to catch and pass Jacobellis for gold, while Jacobellis recovered and earned the silver – holding off bronze medal winner Maltais.
Jacobellis has no regrets about what happened though – in fact, she sees it as a good thing.
“My silver has made me the racer I am today,” she told NBCOlympics.com. “I know if I won the gold, then I definitely would have quit, because I wasn’t having as much fun racing boarder cross then.”
Embedded video_content_type: Lindsey Jacobellis: How her mistake in Torino saved her career, and lifted the sport
The pressure that the media had put on Jacobellis to perform at such a young age – 20 years old at the time – took the fun out of racing for her and pushed her to the point where she considered leaving the sport. Losing the gold in Torino reinvigorated Jacobellis and gave her something to strive for.
“If I had quit, I would have given up on a lot more titles and not be pushing the women’s field, and it might not be where it is today,” she said.
Four years later, Jacobellis was a favorite once again in Vancouver. Earning the number two seed in qualifying, she advanced to the semifinal, only to crash and miss a gate, preventing her from advancing to the final round and ending her hopes at a medal and redemption.
So, does Jacobellis ever look back to that last performance for motivation?
“Never, definitely,” she said.
The road to Sochi since then was not a kind one at times for Jacobellis though. A torn ACL suffered in January 2012 at X Games required two separate knee surgeries to repair.
“The first surgery just didn’t take,” Jacobellis explained. “I was in that 3 percent where the graf didn’t take and it was giving me a 90 percent knee once it healed, and I realized that wasn’t going to be good enough, so I decided to do it all over again.”
Because she opted for a second surgery, the injury ultimately kept Jacobellis off the snow for about a year and a half.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympian: Lindsey Jacobellis
“The first time getting back on snow was in June and it was a little nerve wracking not knowing how it would feel and how my body would respond,” she said. “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.
“I felt like I had everything I should have. I had the aggression. I had the drive and strength.”
Indeed, Jacobellis did seem to have it all back when she returned to competition a few months later.
In her first race back in December, Jacobellis was the top finisher in every heat she competed in, with the exception of the semifinal where she crashed. The crash relegated her to the small final, which she won to finish seventh overall.
She followed it up with a win at the World Cup race in Lake Louise two weeks later, then finished on the podium at the final two World Cup events. The pre-Olympic season culminated in Aspen where she won her eighth X Games gold in snowboard cross – breaking the record for most titles won by a woman in the history of the event.
Expectations are high for Jacobellis, now 28, but that elusive gold medal won’t come easy. Among the other gold medal favorites in Sunday’s event is the Canadian Maltais.
Four years after earning bronze behind Jacobellis in Torino, Maltais would not even get the chance to compete for a medal in the heat races at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Maltais (left) and Jacobellis (right) earned their only medals eight years ago in Torino. (Photo: USA Today Sports)
A hard crash in a training run less than 30 minutes before the start of qualifying left Maltais spitting up blood on the course. Rattled by the crash and dealing with a collapsed lung, Maltais was unable to bounce back and would not put down a fast-enough qualifying run to advance to the elimination heats. And with that, her medal hopes were over before the actual racing even started.
Like Jacobellis, if Maltais had achieved that goal of obtaining a gold medal by now, she may not have ever made it to Sochi.
“If I had done well in Vancouver, I would have retired for sure,” she said.
Instead of retiring, Maltais took a few months off from snowboarding, then returned with a new dedication to the sport.
"I’ve realized how much I love my sport, how much I love competing. I don’t regret my decision for sure,” she said.
Maltais is currently atop the World Cup rankings by a wide margin and has not finished worse than second in any of this season's four World Cup events. Sitting second behind Maltais in the rankings is Jacobellis. Both boarders have one win apiece in World Cup competition this season.
Maltais (left) and Jacobellis (right) are 1-2 in the rankings this season and have had their share of battles. (Photo: USSA)
Both riders faced many obstacles to get to this point. Had a number of things broken differently, either one may have been content to call it a career well before Sochi.
Yet here they both are once again.
In the unpredictable sport of snowboard cross, nothing is ever guaranteed. All it takes is one stroke of bad luck, such as getting taken out in another rider’s crash, and a contender’s day could end early.
Not to mention that there are a number of other racers in the field who could threaten for that gold medal as well. Maltais’s Canadian teammate Maelle Ricker is returning to defend the gold medal she won four years ago in Vancouver. 20-year-old Czech Eva Samkova is a rising star in snowboard cross and has two World Cup wins this season – the most of any rider. Norwegian Helene Olafsen will also be in the mix, returning to the Olympics after finishing fourth and narrowly missing out on a medal in Vancouver.
For Jacobellis, it’s one more chance to erase the mistakes of 2006 for good – even if she looks at the situation differently.
“It’s not necessarily a redemption. It’s more me trying to make everything come together,” Jacobellis noted. “It’s important to just race my best and give it whatever I can give at that moment to the best of my ability. 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.”
For Maltais, now 33, she knows this may be her final shot.
“I’m really excited, but I’m really sad because that means it’s probably going to be the end after that,” she told The Globe and Mail. “But it’s good, for me I’m giving everything right now, I’m still pushing, I want to make sure I’m going to finish my career with a good ending, so I’m putting every effort, all the energy that I have to make it happen.”
Here's how the numbers break down between the two prolific racers:
|Lindsey Jacobellis||Name||Dominique Maltais|
|Stratton Mountain, VT||Hometown||Petite-Riviere-St-Francois, Quebec, Canada|
|120 lbs.||Weight||160 lbs.|
|silver (2006), 5th (2010)||Olympic results||bronze (2006), 20th-DNQ (2010)|
|9 (8 gold, 1 bronze)||X Games medals||1 (gold)|
|2 (2007, 2009)||Career World Cup titles||4 (2006, 2011-2013)|
|27||Career World Cup wins||12|
|2nd||2013-14 World Cup rankings||1st|
|1||2013-14 World Cup wins||1|
Qualifying begans Sunday at 2 a.m. ET, with the elimination rounds starting up at 4:15 a.m. ET on NBCOlympics.com.