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Lindsey Jacobellis can’t catch an Olympics break — but ‘there are worse things in life’

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Lindsey Jacobellis keeps her 2006 silver medal for snowboard cross in a clear, small frame above the mantel at her parent’s home where everyone can see it. The frame has a little door on it. This is so visitors can pull it out and try on the silver medal whenever they want.

Sure, the first thought Sunday when watching Jacobellis crash in Olympics snowboard cross again, missing out on the gold medal again, was a rush of heartbreak. Obviously. “Kind of a bummer,” Jacobellis would say. For almost a decade now, Jacobellis has been the best in the world in her crazy sport. And it is HER sport. She has won world championships, world cup championships, every individual event imaginable. She has come back from injury after injury. She is the one name in snowboard cross that people know.

And the Olympics keep crushing her spirits.

“I’ll probably win my next event,” she says, sadly. “Timing. I’ve just had bad timing.”

So, yes, the first thought was heartbreak for Jacobellis. Everyone in and around Sochi seemed to feel it. Olympic athletes took to Twitter and Facebook to offer condolences. All you had to do was say the name “Jacobellis” anywhere, and it was all but guaranteed that the person would just drop his or her head and say, “Oh, that’s just awful.”

VIDEO: Lindsey Jacobellis falls short in gold quest

You certainly know the story by now. At the 2006 Torino Olympics, Jacobellis was the fresh-faced young star of a brand new sport called snowboard cross. In the sport, multiple snowboarders race at the same time down a mountain of bumps and jumps and wicked turns. So, yes, it was insane and dangerous-looking and just plain dangerous and Jacobellis was 20 years old, the best in the world, a star of television commercials, a photo on magazine covers.

And, predictably, she was leading the medal race by about half a mountain when she came upon her final jump. She was so taken with the moment that she decided to do a method grab – just a little hot dog grab of the board – and it backfired. She landed and fell. She was able to get to her feet fairly quickly and get to the finish line. But Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden passed her for the gold. Jacobellis got that silver that rests on her mantel.

With that she suddenly became a symbol of things that she had no interest in representing. People made fun of her and her meltdown. More disconcertingly, many seemed angry with her – ANGRY! – as if she had betrayed them with her little show. They said she typified a culture eager to celebrate itself and youth that did not respect the Olympic stage.

VIDEO: Another tough break for Jacobellis

And here Lindsey Jacobellis just thought she fell trying to do a funny little trick.

“Do you think people are overreacting?” a reporter asked her in a teleconference.

“I think so,” she said, “I mean it’s just a race and anything can happen.”

“Just a race?” the reporter countered. “It’s not for the Olympic gold medal?”

“I have the first silver for snowboard cross ever,” she pleaded. “So you have to give me something, right?”

VIDEO: Jacobellis on her “unfortunate” fall

That teleconference ended abruptly with Jacobellis breaking down in tears. She simply did not understand the fury in the reaction. She did not understand why her crash was such a big deal. Her sport is all about crashes. She had tried a basic trick she had done countless times before and it had not come off. Stupid? OK, she’d admit that. But it wasn’t like she ha defaced the Olympic rings. It’s sports, you know?

“I was having fun,” she said then. “That’s what snowboarding is.”

Four years later, in Vancouver, her story was redemption, redemption, redemption – could Jacobellis redeem her Torino blunder? Redemption, of course, meant winning gold. NPR counted 26,700 combinations of “Jacobellis” and “redemption” on Google. There was to be no story of redemption. In the semifinal, Jacobellis stumbled on a landing, drifted off course and hit a gate. She was disqualified.

VIDEO: Jacobellis on 2006 and why she’s in Sochi

“It was really hard to deal with it in 2006 because I was so young,” she says. “It wasn’t as bad in Vancouver because I was getting a little older. It just didn’t work out.”

source: AP
Credit: AP

So what about Sunday’s sadness? She was leading her semifinal by a healthy margin, but toward the she was worried that the group behind was gaining. She pushed a little too much and came over one of those bumps a little too hard and, as she explained, “the board keeps going but the body stays behind.” She fell and then, in an effort to get back on her board, kind of tumbled backward and slid back into the course and out of the running.

And this time her responses were a confused mix of pain (“Something always happens at the Olympics”) and a brave face (“That’s just how the wheel turns”) and bafflement (“I win every other event but it just doesn’t happen here,”) and sadness (“Yeah, kind of a bummer”). Her friend and American teammate Faye Gulini made the point that Jacobellis hides the intense pressure she feels. “(The Olympics) breaks her heart,” Gulini said. “I think it takes the fun out of it for her.”

But Jacobellis denied that pointedly. She said it was just a fluke. She referred to fickleness of her sport – six snowboarders going down a mountain at the same time will crash a lot. Just a couple of races before Jacobellis, the defending gold medalist Maelle Ricker of Canada also crashed out without winning a medal.

“This is what makes it a popular sport at the Olympics,” Jacobellis said. “Unfortunately, it’s tough. It didn’t work out for me.”

Jacobellis is not the same person she was eight years ago or even four years ago. She’s 28 now, a three-time world champion, an eight-time X Games gold medalist, the most decorated World Cup snowboard cross athlete ever. She is an activist for animal rights, a spokesperson for several companies, a legend of her sport.

VIDEO: Jacobellis, Ricker crashes highlight unpredictability of SBX

No, Lindsey Jacobellis probably won’t ever win an Olympic gold medal (though she did not rule out trying again in four years). And that hurt will linger for a while. The first thought is heartbreak. But there’s a second thought.

“There are worse things in life than not winning,” she says, and yes, that’s the second thought. Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in the importance of the Olympics and winning. But there in her house, she has that silver medal in in a frame that opens so anyone can wear it.

How cool is that? When you talk to Jacobellis, away from all of it, you realize she’s a happy person doing exactly what she wants to do. Think of it: Would her life really be so different if that medal in the frame was gold?

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Tony Azevedo of the USA in action during the USA vs Italy Waterpolo group match at Julio de Lamare Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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