By Jack Tarrant
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – Lindsey Jacobellis, once dubbed the unluckiest Olympian, was quick to dismiss any idea that an Olympic gold – the one major accolade the American does not possess – would define her career.
The 32-year-old will compete in her fourth Olympics when the snowboard cross kicks-off next week, still chasing that elusive gold medal.
Jacobellis has dominated snowboard cross for years and is the most decorated female athlete in the sport’s history. She has won the World Championship five times and earned 10 Winter X Games golds.
However, her history in the Olympics is all the more painful. In 2006, Jacobellis performed a showboating trick in the final run, fell and eventually had to settle for silver medal.
Four years later in Vancouver, she was disqualified in the semi-final for hitting a gate and then, most recently in Sochi, she finished seventh after yet another fall.
However, Jacobellis says the pressure was not on her to finally reach her potential at an Olympics this time around.
“Knowing that a medal doesn’t define me as an athlete,” said a clearly riled Jacobellis on Thursday.
“I have an eclectic resume and I am still at it in the sport and that I haven’t given up. I am still here and focussed on these games. I want to put my heart into it and try as hard as I can.”
Since Sochi, Jacobellis has come back from the most serious injury of her career. A knee ligament injury kept her out for almost a year and Jacobellis praised the support of her team, especially Nick Baumgartner, for her recovering.
“I know Nick was with me this first couple of runs. I was really nervous and he was filming me like I was a little kid behind me like ‘you are doing it, you are turning.’”
“Just having that support was amazing so coming back through an injury is definitely hard but it takes a village and we have a pretty strong village.”
Baumgartner himself is appearing at his third Olympics and the 36-year-old knows this could be his final chance to get into an Olympic final.
The disappointments of previous campaigns – he finished 20th in 2010 and didn’t make it out of the first heat in 2014 – haven’t stopped ‘Baum’ from becoming a major star in the United States and in particular his home state of Michigan.
“I always say it is the coolest part of being an Olympian. I get to go home and share it with all these kids,” said Baumgartner, who hopes to inspire a future generation of snowboarders to take up snowboard cross.
The American ladies team, led by Jacobellis, are aiming to clinch the first American Olympic gold in women’s snowcross, the men will be hoping to replicate the achievements of two-time champion Seth Walcott.
The men’s snowcross is on Feb. 15 with the ladies’ event a day later.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)