By Sally Jenkins
Saturday, February 18, 2006
It was the worst moment in the history of the sport. Okay, so the sport is only four minutes old. Anyhow, here is what happened: Lindsey Jacobellis biffed. I confess that I don't know what a biff is, except that it is an incredibly embarrassing thing to do within yards of the finish line. I only know that in doing so, she besmirched the grand history of this event. Which just started Friday.
I'm sure that as an American, I should feel much worse about what Jacobellis did. It's a dark day for our country, and dark day for . . . what's the name of the sport, again?
Snowboard cross. Which, if you are into conventional notions of rules, order and sport, you probably shouldn't watch. When it comes on, you should shut your eyes tight and make earmuffs with your hands to block out what the announcers are saying. This event is so demented that it's enough to drive a person back to regular skiing, and to the sullenly nonchalant Bode Miller. Can you say Alpine? Skiing? Slaloms? Downhills?
So, you were sitting there watching with pride and satisfaction as the U.S. gold medal count was about to go up, when it happened. Jacobellis led by 40 miles in the four-woman final. Behind her on the course of swales and jumps and berms was the littered equipment of two of the racers, who had crashed. It looked like their heads were still rolling around in the icy alleys of the course.
Jacobellis took the second-to-last jump, and hurtled into the air -- and then she grabbed her board and did a showy little shimmy.
All of sudden you were upright in the chair. "Oh my God," you screamed, "what was that?"
And then she crashed. Switzerland's Tanja Frieden swooshed past her for the gold medal.
At the finish line, U.S. Coach Peter Foley fell on the ground.
At home, you toppled out of your chair and flopped around on the ground like a goldfish.
Later, news accounts and TV analysts would alternately continue screaming in disbelief, or wonder solemnly whether this beat the Dallas Cowboys' Leon Lett, or Denver's Champ Bailey, for the single most costly hotdog moment in sports history.
According to the Associated Press: "Foley said Jacobellis always had a tendency to grab the board for stability, but after looking at a frame-by-frame breakdown of the jump shot by Associated Press photos he conceded Jacobellis had probably gone over the top: 'She definitely styled that a little too hard.' "
He looked at a frame-by-frame breakdown? Of a snowboard cross race? No Zapruder film? Nuts.
Foley wasn't alone. "Sometimes it's subconscious, but that was putting on a show," said American Seth Wescott, the men's champion from the day before. ". . . That debate will linger. Either way . . . .."
This is a debate? They're debating the snowboard cross thingy? The event that is less than 48 hours old as an Olympic sport? The thingy that is a new relation to that relatively storied event, the halfpipe, in which kids with flying hair do jumps that are named things like the "Double Latte Mochiatto" or the "Triple Decaf Vente Cowabunga"?
In talking to Jacobellis after she biffed, or flutzed, or flutzed her biff, it was clear that she may not share the sensibility of Mr. and Mrs. America when it comes to gold medals. Apparently losing the gold medal wasn't the source of ignominy. Falling down was, on a hot-doggy move.
"As a snowboarder I bow my head in shame," she said.
It's also clear from talking with Jacobellis that she will get over it a lot sooner than we do.
"I was having fun," Jacobellis said. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens."
We wanted these snowboard kids here to jazz up the games. This is what they do. It's just not the kind of jazz we expected. You take the hot dogs and the thrill seekers out of their natural habitat, and there is going to be some ethical confusion. We shouldn't expect them to behave differently. Jacobellis did what snowboarders do. She hot-dogged it. And then she biffed.
"I mean I always grab when I go over, and I was really excited, and I had fought so hard and I was definitely caught up in the moment, and forgot that I still had to win the race," she said.
This is a new competitive ethic. And while it may not be yours or mine, it's something to examine. Bode Miller skis "subjectively." Johnny Weir falls down because he doesn't have his "aura." I did not know that aura polishing was part of Olympic training. I guess football players have mental toughness, and figure skaters have auras. Or aura you telling me I'm wrong about that?
Should we scrap the medal count? Should the USOC stop paying bonuses for medals? Maybe they should. But is NBC going to pay $1 billion for the rights to watch youngsters fulfilling themselves? We'll have to wait and see the answer. But let's put it this way. Lindsey Jacobellis winning silver instead of gold was a lot better than an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" or "American Idol."