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Unapologetic Jacobellis a poster girl for all the wrong reasons


Whoops. She did it again.

I can't say I'm a big fan of the Winter Olympics. Or snowboarding. But every four years we are force-fed hours of white-out, network coverage from frozen time zones. It's something to watch between the Super Bowl and spring training.

In this post-millineum era, X Games sports get the same props as alpine skiing, speed skating and old-fashioned hockey. With this, we have a new generation of daredevil athletes, free birds who value image and fun over conventional standards of success.

Which brings us to Ms. Lindsey Jacobellis, of Stratton, Vt., the poster-girl of young fans and athletes who love X-treme sports.

Four years ago in Turin, Jacobellis was on her way to certain gold when she decided it would be a good idea to entertain herself and the masses with a hot-dog move as she neared the finish line. It was completely unnecessary. The gold was hers. She had the lead. But when she went into her inboard grab on the second-to-last jump, she stumbled and Tanja Frieden of Switzerland blew past her for the gold medal.

Jacobellis was unapologetic and unembarrassed. She went on TV with Bob Costas and calmly explained that she was just having fun. No regrets about silver instead of gold. She had been true to herself and her sport. In an odd twist, the tainted silver only made her more famous. Gold? Silver? What's the diff?

That's what kills me about the whole concept. Jacobellis has grown up in a video-highlight world in which values (and rewards) style over substance. Better to look good and fail than to succeed by doing something awkward.

You see this all the time in the NBA. I first noticed it with former Celtic Antoine Walker, a skilled player who could have been so much more than he was. Walker had a terrific post-up game. Not exceptionally tall, he could play with his back to the basket, work to get his spot and score over most defenders. But he didn't like playing in the paint because it was ugly-ball. And sometimes he'd get his shot blocked. Better to look cool jacking up threes from beyond the arc. Today the Celtics have this same issue with veteran Rasheed Wallace.

If Jacobellis played in the NBA, this is what she's do. Trailing by one point with the clock ticking down, she'd steal the ball at midcourt and rush toward an easy game-winning bucket. All alone. But instead of kissing it softly off the glass for a textbook layup, she'd go for a 360-reverse two-handed tomahawk. The ball would carom off the back rim and bounce all the way toward midcourt as the buzzer sounded. And she'd shrug and tell us it was more fun trying to win with style.

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Last week in Vancouver, Jacobellis had a shot at redemption from the '06 debacle. That's the way we looked at it, anyway.

Lindsey didn't see it that way. This was not about redemption for Jacobellis. In her mind, she never did anything regrettable. She had fun. She served herself.

And so she took to the hills in the Olympics again and this time blundered right out of the blocks. She slid off the Cypress Mountain course in the first turn of the snowboard cross semifinals. It was an automatic disqualification. Fine. It happens to the best of 'em.

But Lindsey had to remind us that she was right and we were wrong. So she went down the hill, knowing that the medal was gone, and finished her performance with a "truck driver grab.''

I can't say I know what a "truck driver grab" is, but I know when an athlete is flipping us the bird and this was it. Once again, her fun, her statement was more important that representing the United States of America in Olympic competition.

Jacobellis blew off the assembled media after her DQ run, but was cajoled back to the interview room by USOC officials long after her failed performance.

"It's unfortunate that the rest of the world only sees this race and the one four years ago,'' she said. "I guess I don't have a great track record with the general public.''

What about the showboat move after she'd DQ'd?

"Since everyone was waiting for me to come down, they'd be watching,'' she reasoned. "I figured I would have some fun, show them I still have deep passion for the sport. If you haven't snowboarded before, maybe you should, because it's fun.''

Cool. Swimming is fun, too. But when Michael Phelps gets to represent our country at the Olympics, I prefer that he dispense with his personal fun and go for the gold.