Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis became the first American gold medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, jumping to an early lead and holding on to win the women's snowboardcross on Wednesday.
Sixteen years after falling in the homestretch of the inaugural Olympic snowboardcross race at the 2006 Games in Torino, Jacobellis, 36, became the oldest snowboarder to medal at the Olympics and earned her second medal in five Olympics. She also became the oldest American woman to win gold at the Winter Games in any sport, a record previously held by Kikkan Randall, who won gold in cross-country skiing during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics at age 35.
"This feels incredible because this level that all the women are riding at is a lot higher than it was 16 years ago," Jacobellis said after the race. "So I felt like a winner just that I made it into finals, because that's been a challenge every time. All these ladies had the potential to win, and today it just worked out for me that my starts were good, my gliding was great and everything worked for me today."
Outside of Olympic competition, Jacobellis has been dominant throughout a career spanning nearly two decades, a consistent winner in an unpredictable sport. With 30 world cup wins, 10 X Games gold medals and six world championships, she is the greatest snowboardcross racer in the sport's history. But at the past four Olympics, she earned a reputation for falling short when it counts.
In Torino, Jacobellis held a seemingly insurmountable lead over Switzerland's Tanja Frieden in the final but famously showboated over the second-to-last jump, slid out and watched Frieden fly past her for gold. She got up in time to salvage silver, but that race haunted Jacobellis like a hex. She fell again in Vancouver in 2010, again in her semifinal in Sochi in 2014 and flamed out in the final in Pyeongchang.
"That was not in my mind," Jacobellis said. "I wanted to just come here and compete. [Winning] would have been a nice, sweet thing, but I think if I had tried to spend time on the thought of redemption, then it's taking away focus on the task at hand, and that's not why I race."
In Beijing, Jacobellis was brilliant, defending her line when she needed to and using her competitors' draft when she fell behind. In the final, she got out to an early lead over Chloe Trespeuch of France that she never relinquished.
After she crossed the finish line, Jacobellis let out a scream and skidded to a stop at the bottom of the course as the magnitude of the moment hit her.
"Belle [Brockhoff, of Australia] came to me after the race and she's like, 'I'm so happy this happened for you because I was little when I watched you in 2006.' If you look at the [Torino 2006] start list, I was at high school when some of these girls were born. People can keep talking about [Torino] all they want because it really shaped me into the individual that I am and kept me hungry and helped me keep fighting in the sport."
In her fifth Olympics and with the spotlight fading and outside expectations waning, Jacobellis finally did the thing the world has expected her to do since 2006: win gold.