Lindsey Jacobellis had spent 16 years in search of the Olympic gold medal she squandered in 2006 when she fell just short of the finish line.
Now she has two.
The second came in mixed team snowboard cross, an event that made its Olympic debut on Saturday. The American veteran couple of Jacobellis, 36, and Nick Baumgartner, 40, have shown young athletes that they are not slowed down by age.
Jacobellis and Baumgartner, longtime friends and the two leading veterans of the sport in the United States, hugged after Jacobellis crossed the line.
“We’re the babies of the 80s,” Jacobellis told NBC afterwards. “We came in hot today and we’re really excited about it.”
It was the first career medal for Baumgartner, who was competing in his fourth Olympic Games. Four years ago he was fourth in men’s snowboard cross. This time, as the oldest American athlete at the Beijing Games and the oldest American snowboarder in Olympic history, he finished 10th and was left in tears two days ago.
Saturday was the other end of the emotional spectrum.
“It’s days like two days ago that make today feel so good,” he said. “I was proud to show everyone what I was worth.”
In snowboard cross, four riders at a time navigate an obstacle course with a series of jumps, berms and tight turns. In the team event, one man and one woman per team compete in a relay. The men go down the course first; the women follow, their departure times staggered according to the arrival times of the men.
In the final, the first woman to finish wins. In earlier rounds, two teams in each innings advance.
Jacobellis and Baumgartner cruised through their quarterfinals and semifinals on a snowy day at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou. Each navigated the tough, technical start, built momentum and stayed away from the kinds of collisions and wipeouts that end most medal dreams.
In the final, Baumgartner won the first leg, beating Italy’s Omar Visintin by four hundredths of a second. The other men also finished within a second of Baumgartner, not giving Jacobellis much cushion.
Jacobellis quickly fell to third place in a final between two Italian teams. She passed a rider on a small jump, then chased the Italian Michela Moioli on the course. Jacobellis passed her on the inside of a tight corner, held on to the lead and won by two tenths of a second.
Visintin and Moioli won the silver medal. Canadians Eliot Grondin and Meryeta O’Dine won bronze after O’Dine recovered from a collision with Italy’s Caterina Carpano and finished 23 seconds behind the leaders.
Faye Gulini, 29, and Jake Vedder, 23, a second American team entering the event, were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Jacobellis became the oldest American woman to win an Olympic medal when she won gold in women’s snowboard cross this week. His victory was a story of quiet perseverance. A premature celebration cost him a certain victory at the 2006 Olympics, when Jacobellis was 20 years old.
Although she is the best runner of her generation, she has failed several times in her Olympic performances. In 2010, she veered off course in the semi-finals and missed the final. In 2014, she stumbles and misses the final again. And in 2018, she finished fourth.
Baumgartner, a four-time Olympian, hoped his age-defying Olympic run would “inspire people to never give up on their dreams.” he wrote on Instagram before competing in Beijing, adding, “You’re never too old to fight for what you want! He builds a training track around his house every year to stay in the game.
A member of Team USA since 2005, Baumgartner finished fourth in snowboard cross at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. And despite being eliminated from the same event this week, he managed to two world cup podiums over the past three months. He started snowboarding at the age of 15, but it wasn’t until college that he discovered snowboard cross, a he once described like the perfect mix of his two favorite sports: football and snowboarding.
“I am 40 years old, I lack opportunities” Baumgartner said on the verge of tears after his elimination from the men’s quarter-finals on Thursday. “This one stings. This one hurts.
But, he said, he hadn’t finished yet.
“I’m not stopping on this, I have to do something better to finish,” he said.
He was right.