No showboating, and no medal, for Lindsey Jacobellis, who slides off the course in women's snowboard cross

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010; D05

WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. -- This is why Lindsey Jacobellis's hot-dog move at the 2006 Olympics was a bad idea. Goofing away a guaranteed gold medal is a bad idea in an event in which even the top competitors can fly off the course or into a fence, ending their day and their dream.

That's what happened to Jacobellis on Tuesday at the women's snowboard cross event at Cypress Mountain. In second place after the two qualifying runs, Jacobellis advanced to the semifinals before sliding off the course and out of the medal hunt.

Jacobellis, 24, had to settle for winning the "small final" and finishing fifth, leaving the gold medal for Maelle Ricker of Canada, the World Cup leader. Deborah Anthonioz of France took silver and Olivia Nobs of Switzerland bronze.

Jacobellis likened the course to "mashed potatoes." Raffaella Brutto of Italy, who did not advance to the quarterfinals, described it this way: "When I start, I go very well, then stop, stop, stop. The snow is not very beautiful."

Such is the often case with hand-me-down snow, brought in and dumped by helicopter after Mother Nature failed to provide. Bad weather continues to plague the Cypress Mountain venue. The start of Tuesday's competition was delayed for two hours by heavy rain and fog, which did the course no favors.

Falls are a part of snowboard cross, but this competition seemed to be marred by more than its share. If you enjoy crashing bodies, snowboard cross has all the fun of dropping a giant bag of marbles at a Pilates class. Competitors were falling like snow -- if snow actually fell at Cypress Mountain.

"The truth is, people love a bit of carnage," said Australian Stephanie Hickey, who was a victim of the carnage herself, falling on her second run and failing to advance to the quarterfinals. "I think it makes it exciting for the spectators."

Perhaps, but just 3,522 were allowed into the event. Eight thousand standing-room tickets were canceled; in fact, organizers have canceled standing-room tickets for all snowboarding events because of unsafe conditions, meaning that the boarders came down the winding course in relative silence until they hit the grandstand area.

In SBX, competitors take two qualifying runs, then are ranked by the faster of the two. The fastest 16 are paired in heats of four boarders for the quarterfinals. The top two in each quarterfinal then advance to the semifinals, which features two groups of four. The top two riders in each heat move into the "big final," which determines the medalists.

Four years ago in Turin, Italy, Jacobellis made it all the way to the "big final," where she had the gold medal well in hand. On her final bit of air, she decided to "method grab" -- basically, grabbing the board when it wasn't necessary. She lost balance, fell on her backside and was passed by Tanja Frieden of Switzerland. She righted herself for silver -- and the hubbub began.

To snowboarders, the move was not controversial. The flamboyance, the risk-taking, the attitude that presentation is more important than results -- this is part of what draws both competitors and fans to the sport. It always seemed likely that adding "shredders" to the more traditional Olympic program would cause some generational "you just don't understand" back-and-forth. The backlash from media and fans following Jacobellis's fall, countered by support from her fellow snowboarders, was a perfect illustration of the strange alliance.

Tuesday, after her fifth-place finish, Jacobellis did not stop in the media mixed zone. Earlier in the day, she spoke about the weather delays.

"Why did I wake up at 5:30 and wait around for two hours, when I could have been sleeping?" she said. "It's not really fun to hang around and wait. You don't know if it's going to happen or not."

The same could be said of that elusive gold medal.

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