SHOWING OFF

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TURIN, Italy -- It was Bill Shoemaker standing in the saddle in the Kentucky Derby, Leon Lett being chased down from behind in the Super Bowl, the Stanford band marching onto the field while "The Big Game" against Cal was still in progress.

Lindsey Jacobellis' sport, snowboarding, is not as well known as some, but the gaffe yesterday that cost her a gold medal could go down as one of the more famous examples of a premature celebration in sports history.

One reason is that it occurred on such a large stage, the Winter Olympics. Another is that it was an otherwise slow day on NBC, guaranteeing numerous agony-of-defeat replays.

In this case, it was more like she snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Jacobellis, 20, of Stratton, Vt., had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead in the snowboard cross, a mad dash down a hilly, winding course, when she decided to style for the crowd in Bardonecchia.

Soaring off the next-to-last hill, she grabbed her board like halfpipe snowboarders do.

But this particular move, a backside method grab, was too risky even for someone like Jacobellis, who is world-class in both the snowboard cross and the halfpipe. She lost her balance upon landing and fell. Because she had such a large lead, she was able to regain her feet and finish second behind Switzerland's Tanja Frieden.

She said immediately after the race that she needed to grab the board for stability.

U.S. coach Peter Foley backed her story until he saw a frame-by-frame photo sequence provided by the Associated Press and acknowledged that Jacobellis "styled that a little too hard."

Later, in a teleconference arranged by the U.S. Olympic Committee, Jacobellis admitted she was showing off.

"I was having fun," she said. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up.

"Oh, well, it happens."

Perhaps the most famous sports example of a premature celebration costing a major victory was in the 1957 Kentucky Derby. Shoemaker, who would go on to set a record for victories by a jockey, mistook the 16th pole for the finish line and stood up in the saddle on Gallant Man, enabling Bill Hartack on Iron Liege to win by a nose.

The Stanford band cost its football team the 1982 game against its biggest rival, Cal, believing the clock had run out during a Golden Bears kickoff return. Instead, the Bears, through a series of laterals, had kept the game alive and, in the confusion, scored a touchdown when Kevin Moen ran through the band members for the win.

Lett, a defensive tackle, didn't cost the Dallas Cowboys a victory in the January 1993 Super Bowl because they were leading 52-17 at the time. But, in one of the more memorable plays in Super Bowl history, he started his end-zone dance a couple of steps early after a 64-yard fumble return and left the ball exposed. Buffalo's Don Beebe caught him from behind and punched the ball out of the end zone for a touchback.

In another incident, Formula One driver Nigell Mansell had such a commanding lead in the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix that he slowed on the final lap to wave to the crowd. When his car stalled, Nelson Piquet passed him for the victory.

In swimming's 2001 world championships, Australia's Petria Thomas dived into the water to celebrate what she considered a certain victory in the 800-meter relay. But the last swimmer for the Aussies had not yet touched the wall. They were disqualified.

It's too soon to tell how Jacobellis' blunder will be remembered in the context of sports blunders.

"It depends on who we're asking," said Nova Lanktree, executive vice president of CSMG International, a Skokie, Ill., athlete representation firm.

"If we're asking the [sports] business people who are watching for different things, it may be more indelible. But for the general public, it could be more transient."

Snowboarding, which has been included in the Winter Games since 1998, has exceeded the expectations that the International Olympic Committee had for it in terms of popularity. American Seth Wescott, who won the men's snowboard cross Thursday, went so far as to say that the sport is "becoming the heart and soul of the Olympic Games."

And Jacobellis is one of snowboarding's most marketable stars. She is featured in a Visa check-card commercial and has posed for Seventeen magazine. According to NBCOlympics.com, she once donated 10 inches of her curly, blond hair to Locks of Love, which arranges for wigs to be made for children in chemotherapy.

But there could be an erosion in the goodwill she has built, Lanktree said, if it's perceived she finished second because she showed off.

Ironically, Jacobellis is considered one of the sport's more conservative athletes and has said she would like to change the snowboarders' image as rebels. Until yesterday, she has had few setbacks. Her parents call her "Lucky Lindsey."

randy.harvey@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Bill Ordine and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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