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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?

Simone Biles among Time Person of the Year finalists

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Simone Biles of the United States competes on the uneven bars during Women's qualification for Artistic Gymnastics on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Simone Biles is one of 11 finalists for Time‘s Person of the Year.

Time‘s Person of the Year, named annually since 1927, has never been an individual athlete or team. Tennis player Billie Jean King was part of the “American Women” group named in 1975.

In 2015, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner was one of eight finalists.

The Person of the Year “is the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

Biles, 19, is the only teenager finalist and is six years younger than the youngest-ever solo Person of the Year, Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Biles won four gold medals and one bronze in Rio, the largest collection for a female gymnast at one Olympics since 1988.

The Person of the Year will be announced on Wednesday morning on “Today.”

Here are the finalists, in alphabetical order:

Simone Biles
Hillary Clinton
CRISPR Scientists
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Nigel Farage
The Flint Whistleblowers
Beyoncé Knowles
Narendra Modi
Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump
Mark Zuckerberg

VIDEO: Biles shows Stephen Colbert how to stick the landing

Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua eyes 2018 Winter Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Pita Taufatofua of Tonga poses for a photo on the NBC Today show set at Copacabana Beach on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Tonga’s famous flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua, said he wants to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.

“I’m going to be taking my Olympic dream one step further,” Taufatofua said in an Olympic Channel video published Monday. “My goal is to let people see, if I can do it, they can do it. The goal is to hunt down that Olympic medal at the 2018 Olympics.”

Sure enough, Taufatofua already has an International Ski Federation bio page. The federation lists one other Tongan cross-country skier with a bio, Makeleta Stephan, who was last of 93 finishers in a 2015 World Championships event.

In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary. Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.

Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule in Rio, two weeks after his his shirtless, oiled-up appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

Judging by the Olympic Channel video, Taufatofua’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics look better for Tokyo 2020 than Pyeongchang 2018.

PHOTOS: Tongan flag bearer steals show at Opening Ceremony