(Reuters) – Lindsey Jacobellis, a 36-year-old snowboarder who in 2006 gave away an overwhelming lead when she slipped and skidded on a showboating last jump, finally clinched Olympic gold on Wednesday.
One of the most decorated female athletes in her sport, Jacobellis had failed to win Olympic gold in three Games since that fateful day in Turin.
On Wednesday, her Olympic redemption in the snowboard cross gave Team USA their first gold medal of the Beijing Games.
Earlier, a nightmare slalom run for skiing great Mikaela Shiffrin had cast a shadow over the American team, who came into the Beijing Olympics second only to Alpine powerhouse Norway for winter golds.
Shiffrin, who won slalom gold in Sochi and has dominated skiing technical events, choked back tears as she questioned whether she could pick herself up and return to competition.
“I’ve never been in this position before and I don’t know how to handle it,” she told reporters.
Petra Vlhova went on to win Slovakia’s first Olympic Alpine skiing gold in the slalom without Shiffrin.
Norway and Sweden sat atop the medal table on Wednesday with four golds each. The Netherlands, China and Germany were closely behind. The U.S. were in 10th spot with seven medals in total.
See the Winter Games medal tally here https://graphics.reuters.com/OLYMPICS-2022/GRAPHIC-EXPLAINER/lbvgnlzkwpq/index.html#section-medals
HIGHS AND LOWS
It was a mixed bag for the Stars and Stripes across Beijing’s Olympic venues on Wednesday, continuing an early Games trend.
Freeski Big Air hopeful Alex Hall, the only skier to have successfully performed a double cork 2160, a whopping six full rotations, in competition coming into the Games, failed to complete his signature trick and finished eighth.
His team mate Colby Stevenson rebounded from a crash in his first jump to win silver behind Norway’s Birk Ruud.
Speed skaters Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia, both ranked high in the World Cup and tipped for medals, finished out of podium contention.
U.S. figure skater Vincent Zhou was forced to withdraw from the men’s short programme after testing positive for COVID-19.
Ryan Cochran-Siegel won a surprise silver in the super-G and Jessie Diggins medalled for the second Olympics in a row by picking up a bronze in the women’s cross-country sprint race on Tuesday, with Rosie Brennan coming fourth.
Back home, there have been signs of waning American interest in the Winter Games.
NBC’s coverage of the Beijing opening ceremony averaged close to 14 million U.S. television viewers, about half the TV audience for the last Winter Games opening ceremony four years ago.
Declining overall TV audiences and an almost opposite time zone, which means very few events are scheduled for local prime time, have contributed.
Viewers who stay up late in the U.S. for Thursday’s competition in Beijing could be treated to a golden blitz with several favourite athletes in focus.
Figure skater Nathan Chen, who stunned Japan’s ice prince Yuzuru Hanyu in the short programme with a world record performance, is within striking distance of gold in the men’s singles.
Chloe Kim, who at 17 became the youngest woman to win a snowboarding gold at Pyeongchang 2018, qualified first in the halfpipe. Japanese teen Mitsuki Ono was second on her Olympic debut.
Kim, now 21, took nearly two years off the mountain to focus on her studies and her mental health after she suffered burnout in the wake of her last Olympics.
“I’m honestly in such a good place right now – just so grateful, taking it all in, and I’m so excited for tomorrow,” Kim said, before hurrying off the course in search of food.
On Friday, snowboarding great Shaun White could get his chance in the halfpipe after advancing in qualifying after fumbling his first run.
White, who is in Beijing to compete in his fifth and final Games, fell during his opening run, after he failed on a trick and slid down the side of the icy halfpipe on his back.
But the exuberant 35-year-old pumped his fist in the air after his second run, ripping off his goggles to scream with delight as his team mates and other supporters in the stands erupted in cheers.
“I had to fight for it, I had to work for it and that’s been this entire season, me just grinding it out and working for it,” White said.
(Reporting by Winnie Zhou, Mari Saito, Simon Evans, Shadia Nasralla, Amy Tennery, Gabrielle Tetrault Farber, Ian Ransom, Julien Pretot, Sakura Murakami, Krystal Hu and Philip O’Connor in Beijing; Writing by Leela de Kretser; Editing by Ken Ferris)