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A Hotdog, No Relish / U.S. athletes pay high prices for assumptions, as a snowboarder with a large lead makes a crucial error near the finish and the heavily favored women’s hockey team is upset

Times Staff Writer

Lindsey Jacobellis struggled through so many close calls to put herself in position to win the gold ... only to throw it away at the end.

Jacobellis opened so large a lead during the culmination of Friday’s snowboard cross competition that Olympic glory must have seemed palpable.

But Olympic glory eluded the athlete like a runaway train after she fell during what looked to be an ill-advised freestyle trick and watched helplessly as someone sped by and claimed the top spot on the podium.

Jacobellis’ impulse to showboat opened the door for Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden, who might as well have had the gold medal handed to her by Jacobellis.

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Jacobellis, 20, the sole U.S. representative in the 23-rider field, insisted immediately afterward that she was not showing off when she soared over the second-to-last jump, turned her snowboard perpendicular to her downhill line, reached back with her left hand and grabbed her board between her boots.

“I’d been having trouble with that jump all day; the wind was catching me weird,” she said. “I tried to grab it to try to stabilize myself in the air, and it didn’t work.”

She later wavered slightly -- saying that she was just trying to “have some fun” -- but she did not openly back away from her original claim.

After catching an edge and tumbling backward upon landing, Jacobellis did manage to get up and back on the course in time to earn the silver medal.

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“I’m really happy to make history right now as the first person to win a silver medal in the Olympics in the sport of snowboard cross,” she said.

But the story -- perhaps one of the biggest of these Turin Games -- was how she seemed to give away the gold.

Seth Wescott, winner of the gold medal in the men’s competition when snowboard cross made its Olympic debut Thursday, said, “Sometimes it’s subconscious, but that was putting on a show.”

Wescott, who has been dating Frieden, added, “It’s one of those things. I did it in my early rides yesterday, but you’ve got to choose your time and make sure you don’t miss.”

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Peter Foley, coach of the snowboard cross team, said the reigning world champion, the overall U.S. Grand Prix champion and three-time X Games champion had a tendency to grab her board over small jumps.

But he acknowledged that the trick Jacobellis seemed to be doing -- called a method air -- was a reasonably difficult one performed by experienced freestyle riders, which Jacobellis is.

“I didn’t think she was trying to show off or anything, but it’s always my worry that they don’t race as hard as they can all the way to the finish,” Foley said.

“So when I was watching the whole time I was yelling at the [giant-screen on-course] TV the whole time: ‘Keep racing! Keep racing!’ ”

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After watching a photo sequence of the jump, Foley later confessed, “She definitely styled that a little too hard.”

Frieden, who had been involved in a tangle with Canada’s Dominique Maltais near the top of the course, kept riding because, she said, in a sport over such a long course with so many turns and jumps, falls can occur anywhere.

“I was in the last turn and I was pretty stoked to get silver, because I knew I was going to have this heavy thing around my neck,” she said, smiling. “But I knew I had to concentrate because you’re never finished until you’re finished.”

Asked whether the jump in question had given her problems, Frieden responded, “I personally love to fly. I didn’t have any problems with it; it is not that big. I felt really big and fine on that.”

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In any event, Jacobellis has a silver medal and the 7,000-plus spectators were witness to one of the craziest finals in recent Olympic history.

The morning’s top four qualifiers all advanced to the afternoon’s four-woman final, during which Jacobellis got off to her first strong start of the day.

Most of the action was behind her. There was the tussle between Frieden and Maltais, Frieden emerging with the advantage, Maltais later losing control, catching air and soaring full speed into the netting.

Remarkably, Maltais recovered and rode to a third-place finish, earning the bronze.

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Less fortunate was fellow Canadian Maelle Ricker, who had to be removed on a stretcher after a violent crash near the top of the course. She was diagnosed with a concussion.

As for Jacobellis, these Games have met her expectations in at least one regard.

“I just wanted to have a great experience; something I’ll always remember,” she said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Snow-boating costs Jacobellis gold

American Lindsey Jacobellis crashed Friday in the Olympic snowboard cross competition while hot-dogging in front of the grandstands and was forced to settle for silver behind Tanja Frieden of Switzerland. What happened:

Race overview

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Canadian Maelle Ricker injured.

Canadian Dominique Maltais falls, recovers to win bronze

1. Far ahead of the competition, Jacobellis grabs her board on the second-to-last jump.

2. Jacobellis falls.

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3. Frieden speeds past on the last jump of the course as Jacobellis scrambles to her feet.

4. Frieden raises her hands in victory as she crosses the finish line in first place with Jacobellis close behind.

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Source: AP. Graphics reporting by Brady MacDonald

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