It’s the toughest course we’ve been on all season. It’s built really well. If you give the course speed, it’s going to run and you’re going to be OK. —Faye Gulini
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — No one wants to finish fourth.
But on a tough Olympic course, after a challenging year, 21-year-old Cottonwood Heights native Faye Gulini will gladly take it.
“I’m happy with the way today went,” said the Salt Lake snowboarder Sunday afternoon. “I had kind of a tough season leading up to the Olympics. And, on this course, it kind of seemed like just staying on your feet was important. I’m happy with fourth. It’s the Olympics. But being on the podium would have been nice.”
Gulini said the course challenged even the world’s best boarders.
“It’s the toughest course we’ve been on all season,” said Gulini, who competed in the 2010 Olympic Games and was eliminated in the quarterfinals. “It’s built really well. If you give the course speed, it’s going to run and you’re going to be OK.”
But the jumps added a variable that not every snowboarder was prepared to deal with in a sport that is essentially snowboard’s version of a motocross race.
“I think for a lot of girls it was mental,” Gulini said. “It was these big jumps that were staring at (them). I come from a freestyle background, so I’m relatively confident on these jumps. But I know it was a big thing with the way this event ended. Every run there was at least two falls.”
One of those came from the top-ranked American and three-time Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis. She was the heavy favorite to win a gold medal after a disappointing showing in 2010. The 28-year-old won silver in 2006, and was a massive favorite heading into the Vancouver games.
But the glare of the spotlight proved too much for her to endure and Jacobellis failed to even make the finals.
One of the most successful athletes in snowboard cross, Jacobellis can’t seem to find success at the Olympic games.
“I think people don’t understand how much pressure is put on her,” Gulini said. “It breaks my heart because I think it kind of takes the fun out of it for her, just for this event. She loves the sport, she’s a phenomenal snowboarder, but it’s in her head.”
Gulini admits she’s never been under the kind of pressure that’s haunted Jacobellis. But she’s watched it cause problems for other athletes.
“It makes it hard for her,” Gulini said. “She said that her head was in it, so maybe it was just a fluke mistake. If that’s true, it’s a bummer. I think she deserves more. People are so ready to see her fail. That’s terrible. It’s not how things should be.”
Jacobellis shrugs off the critics.
"A lot of people can say what they want and put as many opinions out there that don't know anything about the sport, and that's fine," she said. "It's not really going to affect how I view myself, and how I view my past resume for everything else."
Jacobellis says she keeps the disappointment of not winning in perspective.
"There are worse things in life than not winning," she said. "A lot worse."
Eva Samkova, of the Czech Republic, won the gold, while Canadian Dominique Maltais won silver and France’s Chloe Trespeuch earned bronze.
Gulini said the women competing in Sunday’s snowboard cross have the skills to ride the course, but some may have fallen victim to self doubt.
“This is a great course, but it’s intimidating,” Gulini said. “We don’t usually have courses that have jumps this big. I think there’s a mental aspect. And I think that’s what it was for a lot of people.”
Luckily, growing up boarding at Snowbird gives Gulini an advantage.
“It’s hard being so close,” she said of finishing one spot off of the podium. “But I’m happy overall. Where I kind of excel is that I’m consistent. As you saw, a bunch of people fell, but I’m really good at staying on my feet, memorizing the features and making the right moves.”
Jacobellis fell in the semifinals, and it appeared she lost her balance coming off a roller that sent riders directly into a turn. Jacqueline Hernandez, the third U.S. boarder competing, crashed in her seeding run and suffered a concussion.
Defending Olympic champion Maelle Ricker of Canada crashed in the quarterfinals and Salt Lake resident Torah Bright, who competes for Australia, also fell in the quarterfinals to end her competition. Bright competed in three events, earning a silver medal in halfpipe.
Bright said she doesn’t regret competing in slopestyle and snowboard cross, as her purpose was just to show the world the many sides of snowboarding.
"That’s why I love it, because anything can happen," said Bright. "It’s the best spectating sport because you don’t need to understand why a judge scored someone some way or ... understand the trickery."
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