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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?

Abby Wambach to cover Olympics for ESPN

Abby Wambach
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Retired U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach is joining ESPN as an analyst and a contributor.

Wambach, the leading goal scorer of all time, will cover the European Championships in France and the Rio Olympics in August.

But her role won’t be limited to soccer: She will work across multiple platforms including ESPN Films and shows including “Outside the Lines,” according to the network.

“Talking and reporting on thing that I’m passionate about really, really was the selling point to me,” Wambach told The Associated Press. “Because I don’t want the rest of my life to be based on the fact that I played soccer. I want to be able to venture and learn about different things.”

Wambach also will produce a podcast, “Fearless Conversation with Abby Wambach,” which she promises won’t shy away from controversy. Among her first topics will be foreign players on the U.S. national team. Wambach drew criticism when she blasted U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for bringing in “a bunch of these foreign guys” in December.

Oslo-born midfielder Mix Diskerud subsequently posted a message to Wambach on Instagram.

“I know we’re not quite equal. From ‘your group of people’ the country’s Commander in Chief need to be selected. However, other than that — you and I share something not unique, but constitutionally earned, a birthright to defend this nation as an American. Wherever we go. Led by whoever has earned, by democratic process, his/her right to lead, on or off the field, in peace, in war, in practice, or in any other kind of pursuit of your happiness,” he wrote.

Wambach said she’s willing to re-examine those comments.

“Why not? I think people tend to steer away from stuff that has caused controversy in their lives. For me, what better place to start? To be quite honest, it’s been few and far between in my career, the reason being that I’ve been speaking for 23 other women, so I kind of towed the party line during that time.”

Wambach, the FIFA Player of the Year in 2012, scored 184 career goals, more than any other player, male or female. She played 15 years with the U.S. women’s national team.

She capped her career last summer with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 in Canada at the World Cup. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women and first since 1999.

Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals, from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She did not compete in the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.

Wambach announced her retirement in October and played her final match in December.

Since she stepped away from the team, she has made several appearances at charity events and campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the course of her career, Wambach has been active in fighting for equal rights for female athletes. She led a group of players in protest of FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many to be inferior to grass.

She made headlines last month when she was pulled over for driving under the influence in Portland, Ore., where she lives. After posting a public apology on her Facebook page, she pleaded guilty and entered a diversion program for first-time offenders.

MORE: Five Olympic questions with Abby Wambach

Five events to watch at Doha Diamond League season opener

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Comebacks are on tap in the first Diamond League meet of the Olympic season in Doha on Friday.

South African Caster Semenya, the 2012 Olympic 800m silver medalist, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014.

American Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist, has been absent from the Diamond League since 2013.

And France’s Teddy Tamgho, the 2013 World triple jump champion, is slated to return to Doha after rupturing an Achilles tendon at the Qatar capital last year.

Those are some of the bigger storylines in a meet that lacks Usain BoltJustin GatlinAllyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

10:45 a.m. — Women’s pole vault
10:45 — Women’s shot put
11:10 — Women’s triple jump
11:30 — Men’s discus
12 p.m. — Men’s high jump
12:04 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:15 — Women’s 100m
12:25 — Men’s 1500m
12:39 — Women’s 400m hurdles
12:50 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s triple jump
12:55 — Women’s javelin
1:09 — Men’s 200m
1:21 — Women’s 800m
1:34 — Men’s 110m hurdles
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 100m — 12:15 p.m. ET

The field is without the Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica but does include the second-through-fourth-place finishers from Worlds.

That’s, in order, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, American Tori Bowie and Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.

Schippers and Bowie earned their first World sprint medals last year, while Campbell-Brown is a seven-time Olympic medalist.

Men’s Triple Jump — 12:50 p.m. ET

The last two World champions face off.

American Christian Taylor won the 2015 World crown with the second-best triple jump in history.

Teddy Tamgho of France, the 2013 World champ, was unable to challenge Taylor at Worlds in Beijing after rupturing an Achilles tendon in Doha last year.

Men’s 200m — 1:09 p.m. ET

A men’s sprint including neither Usain Bolt nor Justin Gatlin is usually not noteworthy. This race is intriguing if only for the presence of Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist set for his first Diamond League race since 2013.

Dix, also the 2011 World 100m and 200m silver medalist, has barely been heard from since failing to make the 2012 Olympic team. He was slowed by a left hamstring injury in 2012 and 2013.

In the 100m, he has broken 10 seconds once in 32 tries since April 21, 2012, according to Tilastopaja.org. But last month he clocked his fastest 100m and 200m times since 2013.

In Doha, he will face a field that includes Isiah Young and Ameer Webb, two of the four fastest U.S. men in the 200m since the London Olympics.

Women’s 800m — 1:21 p.m. ET

South African Caster Semenya is back in the spotlight after clocking the then-fastest 400m and 800m times this year within an hour of each other on April 16.

The 400m time was surpassed later that day, but it was still a personal best for Semenya, best known for a gender-testing controversy in 2009 and 2010.

Semenya, who failed to qualify for the 2013 Worlds and failed to make the 2015 World 800m final, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014. She’ll notch her first Diamond League win since 2011 if she can beat a field that includes Kenyan Eunice Sum, the fastest in the world in 2015.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 1:34 p.m. ET

Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt continues his comeback from a Sept. 1 kidney transplant (and a reported second emergency surgery in late October).

Merritt, who earned 2015 World bronze with kidney function at less than 20 percent, is slated to face a Doha field that includes 2013 World champion David Oliver and Jamaican Omar McLeod, who ran the world’s second-fastest time in 2015.

McLeod beat Oliver and Merritt at the Drake Relays on Saturday.

MORE: U.S. sprinters past, present trade relay barbs