Jacobellis’ Victory

In my family, we love to watch the Olympics, because we see people in the pursuit of excellence. One such athlete is Lindsey Jacobellis, who is the world’s best woman snowboarder in the new category of snowboard cross. It’s kind of like downhill skiing version of motorcross. The competitors go down the slope four at a time and jockey for position as they maneuver the curves.

I’ve really enjoyed watching this new sport. If you’ve been following the Olympics, you know that Jacobellis made it to the finals, where she got herself into the lead right away. In fact her lead grew substantially and she was a shoo-in for the gold medal. As she went over one of the last jumps, she did a little snowboard trick, and unfortunately threw her balance off just enough that she fell. She quickly recovered and got back on the slope, but Tanja Frieden of Switzerland came barreling down and passed her. Jacobellis got the silver medal.

I was amazed at how the announcers went after Jacobellis’ mistake like a pack of hungry wolves. Yes, she got a little over-confident, but from the reporting, you’d think she had shot a friend in the face with birdshot. It was a powerful – though distressing – example to me of how negative our culture can be.

Jacobellis, a mere 20 years old, conducted herself in the interviews that followed with calmness and honesty, qualities many of the interviewers twice her age failed to show.

I thought to myself, if that’s the worst thing Lindsey ever experiences in her life, she’ll have a great life. Yes, a gold medal would have been amazing, but it’s still just a sport. Sometimes as a coach I say something that – like Jacobellis’ jump – doesn’t land right, but I rephrase it and continue my pursuit of excellence.

“It’s just a race,” she said Saturday, as quoted in the New York Times. “I know it’s the Olympics and everyone’s trying to get a reaction out of me. I made a mistake. It happens. I was very happy to still come out with a medal after making such a goof.”

We would do well to be aware of the powerful forces of negativity around us that would tear us down at a moment’s notice, if we let them. I’m sure Jacobellis learned from her error. She joked that she hung her head in shame that she did not pull off the snowboarder’s trick. “I was just really having fun with the sport. I was enjoying the moment. I stopped paying attention,” she said. I love her fun-loving spirit. Making and learning from mistakes is part of life on this planet.

American Seth Wescott, the gold medalist in men’s snowboardcross, said the trick Jacobellis tried “is second nature to us. The people who criticize don’t understand the sport at all…The freestyle aspect of it is where the soul of the sport lies. It would have been a shame if she didn’t go for it.” That’s a radically different take than the announcers, who appeared to be looking to increase the ratings with a hyped up story with a negative spin.

So go out there, improvise, innovate and don’t be afraid to fall. And kudos to Jacobellis on her silver medal, and her healthy attitude.

© 2014 Anne Alexander, all rights reserved in all media

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