ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – American Lindsey Jacobellis, who on Wednesday won her country’s first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, never stopped fighting even after being dogged for 16 years by a fumble that came to define her career.
In a moment that was instantly televised and endlessly ridiculed, Jacobellis was within metres of winning gold in 2006 – the first time snowboard cross was included in the Games – when she fluffed a trick move and was overtaken at the finish line.
The 36-year old, who until Wednesday had failed to reach the podium in the past three Olympics, was adamant that hers was not an easy redemption story but one of perseverance and grit.
“They can keep talking about it (2006 Games) all they want because it really shaped me into the individual that I am and kept me hungry and really helped me keep fighting in the sport,” she said.
Facing a crowd of reporters near the finish line, Jacobellis said if she had won gold in Turin 16 years ago, she would not still be competing, adding that she had been under enormous pressure at the time and had begun to hate the sport.
“I wasn’t really having fun with it,” she said of the 2006 Games.
“There was so much pressure on me to be the golden girl. I’d won so many races going into it and it’s a lot for a young athlete to have on their plate,” she said.
Jacobellis, who said her competitive spirit was the result of growing up with an older sibling, was worried until the very end of the day’s final race as France’s Chloe Trespeuch was gaining on her.
But the American finished with a comfortable lead at the Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou, where snow flurries began to fall midway through the race. Trespeuch took silver and Meryeta O’Dine of Canada the bronze.
Asked how her delayed gold would affect – or even change – her life, Jacobellis said it wouldn’t. She said she knew going into Wednesday’s race that it was possible she may not win but that it was important for her to remember that the medal “did not define” her as an athlete.
“It just makes me feel like I have another accomplishment and looking at the next way I can grow as a person and as an athlete,” Jacobellis said.
(Additional reporting by Winni Zhou and Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ed Osmond)