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‘It kept me hungry’: Sixteen years after her infamous mistake, Lindsey Jacobellis is finally an Olympic gold medalist

United States' Lindsey Jacobellis celebrated after winning a gold medal in the women's cross finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Wednesday.Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

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Sixteen years after a disastrous decision cost her an Olympic gold medal, American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis finally has her hands on the elusive prize.

Jacobellis, who resides near Stratton Mountain, Vt., earned the first gold medal for Team USA at the 2022 Winter Games, edging out France’s Chloe Trespeuch in the women’s snowboardcross Wednesday morning. At 36, Jacobellis became the oldest snowboarder ever to win an Olympic medal.

But the victory should mean so much more to Jacobellis, who has been haunted by a mistake she made in the same event at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

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Jacobellis, then 20, maintained an extremely comfortable lead in the final and seemed well on her way to a gold medal. On the second-to-last jump, however, she decided to attempt a celebratory method grab only to lose her balance and fall.

As Jacobellis worked to regain her standing, Switzerland’s Tanja Friedman passed her and crossed the finish line first. Jacobellis was forced to settle for silver.

Although she initially said the move was intended to improve her stability, Jacobellis later admitted she was “having fun” on the course.

“Snowboarding is fun,” she said at the time. “I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd.”

Lindsey Jacobellis reacted after crossing the finish line to win the gold medal.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Jacobellis said Wednesday that the thought of redemption was not on her mind, that she didn’t want to distract herself from the task at hand. She had already come to terms with the possibility that she might end her storied snowboarding career without an Olympic gold medal.

Following the 2006 Winter Games, Jacobellis continued to have incredible success at the X Games and World Championships, yet she remained snakebitten whenever the Olympics rolled around.

At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, she was disqualified in the semifinals after swerving into a gate. In 2014, she once again didn’t advance beyond the semifinals, this time losing her balance and falling on the course. Then, in 2018, she secured a spot in the final but finished .003 seconds short of a spot on the podium.

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As her infamous gaffe remained a topic of conversation, Jacobellis hired Denise Shull, a mental coach, to assist with her training. The pair worked to limit the negative impact of what happened in 2006 and the ensuing media attention.

“It really shaped me into the individual that I am,” she said. “It kept me hungry and really kept me fighting in this sport.”

Now, in Beijing at her historic fifth Olympics, Jacobellis could not be denied. She placed first in each of her three races leading up to Wednesday’s final, and, most importantly, came through in the race that mattered most. Trespeuch finished with silver, while Canada’s Meryeta O’Dine earned bronze.

“This feels incredible because the level that all the women are riding at today is so much higher than it was 16 years ago,” Jacobellis said after her victory. “All these ladies out here have the potential to win, and today it just worked out for me that my starts were good, that my gliding was great, and everything just worked for me today.”

Even Jacobellis’s competitors acknowledged her long-awaited triumph.

“That is a very famous story in snowboardcross, so to see her come home with the gold after so many years, and she has so many wins, it’s honestly really cool to see,” O’Dine said. “I’m so proud that she got it.”

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“Lindsey deserves it,” added Trespeuch. “When she crashed before the line, it was very hard for her. She’s an example for us.”

Asked what message she’d share with younger athletes, Jacobellis stressed the importance of learning from one’s mistakes.

“It doesn’t define you,” she said. “Especially if you’ve made it to this stage, you’re a winner. Look at what you’ve learned from the experience, and take that with you later in life.”

Jacobellis has previously said she would have retired after the 2006 Winter Games if she had won gold that day in Turin. Sixteen years later, she can finally do so — as a 10-time X Games champion, four-time World champion, and an Olympic gold medalist — or perhaps she’ll be back for more.

“Maybe I’ll blink again, and I’ll be back the next Olympics,” she said. “I want to say that I’m really excited with how things are happening right now, so I’m going to try to live in this moment a little bit longer.”


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.