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Now She Has Snow Much Fun

Times Staff Writer

Lindsey Jacobellis and her rivals in the women’s competition gathered behind the starting gate as her brother, Ben, and five other snowboarders dropped into the boardercross course and charged down the mountain.

Ben would not make it to the bottom on his own. As the racers rounded a steep, sharp turn at high speed, one of them clipped his board, causing him to spin and fall violently backward, slamming his neck and head into the hard pack. He slid to a stop and, unconscious, lay in a heap.

Lindsey could not see what was happening below, but she heard the racers’ names announced as they crossed the finish line. Ben’s was not among them.

A short time later, the start of her race imminent, worry flooded her mind. She knew only that her brother had been removed from the course -- but also that “Benny wouldn’t want me to back down or be worried at all because he gets mad at me even if I just ask him if he’s OK.”

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So instead of backing down, she burst out of the gate and won the semifinal heat. Then, after learning her brother was coherent and able to move his arms and legs, she became “strong again” and blitzed the course to win the final.

That’s the way it went on a snowy January afternoon in Aspen, Colo., during the ninth ESPN Winter X Games. While Ben came away with a moderate concussion, “Lucky Lindsey,” as his younger sister is known, won her third consecutive X Games gold medal in boardercross.

Lindsey’s mental toughness, along with her considerable athletic skill, is what many believe will carry the U.S. Snowboarding team member to the podium next winter at the Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

Jacobellis, 19, who is among the favorites to win gold in the boardercross, also will try to qualify for the halfpipe competition. She could become the first Olympic snowboarder to medal in two disciplines.

“The very first time here she had more drive than anyone her age or even athletes above her age,” said Ross Hindman, her former coach at Stratton Mountain School, a skiing and snowboarding college prep academy. “She was so driven in snowboarding, and it was no different in academics. If I was to say one word that would mean Lindsey Jacobellis, it would be ‘driven.’ ”

That helps explain her impressive list of achievements:

* At 15, she won the boardercross competition in the U.S. Open at Stratton, Vt., over a course so demanding and potentially dangerous that nearly half of her rivals chose not to race.

* At 16, she won the overall title in the Junior World Championships in New Zealand.

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* At 17, she won her first X Games gold and graduated from Stratton Mountain School, receiving the Founder’s Award for academic and athletic excellence. She was accepted at the University of Vermont, where she said she will enroll after the Olympics.

* At 18, she competed in her first World Cup event, taking second in the halfpipe competition in Chile. At her second X Games, she became the first athlete to compete in three snowboarding disciplines, taking first in boardercross, fourth in halfpipe and 13th in slopestyle.

During another World Cup competition in Japan, she won both boardercross events and the halfpipe competition to become the first snowboarder to sweep two disciplines.

This year, her highlights include halfpipe triumphs at two Grand Prix series events; a boardercross win at the World Snowboarding Championships; and her emotional victory at the X Games on Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain.

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Afterward, she talked about growing up in Roxbury, Conn., about her snowboarding career, and her close relationship with her brother.

Roxbury is a remote farm community with houses spread far apart. The family had no cable TV and friends were not always around “so Benny was forced to play with me,” Lindsey recalled.

Ben, who also has Olympic aspirations, is five years older than Lindsey. The siblings played all sorts of games. “And everything had to be extreme,” said their mother, Anita. “Especially the bike jumps.”

Everything became -- and remains -- a fierce competition that, Lindsey said, “can get kind of mean at times.”

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“We can play Marco-Polo or just throw the football and it may even turn into a verbal fight,” she added.

Ben says he long ago stopped being surprised by his sister’s strength and determination, and that he expected her to win the gold at the X Games despite the uncertainty about his injuries.

Lindsey credits her brother for much of her success. Competing against Ben helped considerably when she was going against boys -- there was no separate event for young girls -- in the Friday night boardercross series at Stratton Mountain.

“Going against those older guys was scary and they definitely didn’t want to ever let a girl beat them,” Lindsey said. “And so it was really hard for me, but it made me a lot tougher.”

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Lindsey became “Lucky Lindsey” when she started beating the boys in those races. “But I don’t think any of her success has had that much to do with luck,” Ben said.

Still, there is this: In 1998, the family vacation home near the slopes burned down. Lindsey and her parents had been primarily skiers, but the skis went up with the house. They chose to replace them with snowboards and the rest is history.

“So if the house hadn’t burned down, you never know, I might not be here [at Aspen],” Lindsey said. “It’s kind of funny how those things work.”

*

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Bound for Glory

Lindsey Jacobellis has become one of the world’s top all-around snowboarders and is aspiring to represent the U.S. in boardercross and halfpipe at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, in 2006. She could become the first snowboarder from any country to medal in two disciplines. A sampling of her career highlights:

* Age 12: First place in giant slalom and second place in slalom at the U.S. Amateur Snowboard Assn. Nationals in Telluride, Colo.

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* Age 15: First place in boardercross at U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in Stratton, Vt.

* Age 16: Winner of overall title at International Snowboarding Federation Junior World Championships in New Zealand.

* Age 17: First place in boardercross, third place in slopestyle and fourth place in halfpipe at Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.

* Age 18: First place in boardercross at X Games; winner of both boardercross competitions and the halfpipe competition at World Cup stop in Japan to become first snowboarder to sweep a major event in two disciplines.

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* Age 19: First place in boardercross at World Snowboarding Championships in Whistler, Canada; first place in boardercross at X Games for third consecutive year; first place in halfpipe at Grand Prix events in Oregon and New Jersey.


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