The Agony of Fourth Place at the Olympics
Soon before the start of her first slalom run at the 2018 Winter Olympics Games on Friday, a horrible feeling overcame American skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin. She wondered if she had food poisoning. 'What is happening'' Shiffrin, who won five straight slalom races to start the calendar year, thought to herself. Overcome by nerves, she threw up.
Her performance left her feeling lousy. She finished the first run in fourth, down by nearly half a second; despite an admirable second run effort in which she started gaining speed before fading, she stayed in fourth place. Shiffrin missed the podium in her most dominant race.
In the mountains of PyeongChang on Friday, Americans felt the pain of fourth place, arguably the least desirable spot in which to finish at an Olympics. While Shiffrin was whiffing on her podium, Lindsey Jacobellis ' the snowboard crosser who was infamously cruising to a gold medal in Torino, before hot-dogging it at the end and falling before recovering in time to win silver ' made her first Olympic finals since those 2006 Games. But she finished fourth, missing a medal by .03 seconds.
Whose sting was sharper' Few Olympic athletes have felt more pain at the Games than Jacobellis. At every Olympics since Torino, her pursuit of the gold she let slip thorough her fingers becomes an irresistible storyline. She got bumped in the semis in both Vancouver and Sochi. Though she was just 20 at the time of her Torino tumble, the media criticized Jacobellis for doing a stylish trick on her snowboard rather than clinching the sure thing. Her blunder ' in truth, one of the worst in Olympic history ' has trailed her for years.
She resists talking about the mistake, and insists she's over it. But despite her sustained success in snowboard cross, most casual sports fans who recognize her name know her as an athlete who choked at the Olympics.
And unlike Shiffrin, Jacobellis can't go back out to race in a few days. Snowboard cross is a one-shot deal at the Olympics. If, at 32, Jacobellis wants to keep competing, she'll have to wait four more years for a fifth attempt at gold.....
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