It was the best of times and the worst of times, but not like you’d think. Two American women Olympians showed what’s best about America and worst about America. Lindsey Kildow and Lindsey Jacobellis represented their countries in very different ways today at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

Kildow took a horrendous, gut-wrenching fall on Tuesday and had to be hospitalized overnight with severe injuries to her leg muscles. However, she rolled out of her gurney the next morning, got dressed and took to the slopes to compete in the downhill – where she got 8th!

Today, still fighting through extraordinary pain she raced in the combined skiing race. She finished admirably in the first run – not finishing near the top but fighting all the way. When she reached the bottom of the slope she hunched over and fought off tears of pain. Quitting, though, was never an option.

“I wanted to do it even if I wasn’t going to do well,” Kildow said. “I just had to try. It’s the Olympics. You work so hard to be here. You can’t just give up.”

She didn’t give up, although her battered body failed causing her to fall and become disqualified.

Our hearts rallied for Kildow and, as ESPN writer Eric Adelson puts it so well: “The regular fan can only crawl out of bed and get back to work, fighting the arms that grab us and hold us back, ignoring all the reasons to crumble. And for that, the regular fan has Lindsey Kildow, and the feeling of watching her do what we all imagine ourselves doing in such a moment of terror and agony.”

On the other hand, Lindsey Jacobellis, with all the talent in the world and a wide open lane to the finish line, decided to act in an arrogant way, which created a moment she’ll wish she had back forever. Crusing all alone to a gold in the snowboard cross finals, Jacobellis decided to hot-dog it off the second-to-last jump. This caused her to fall literally and in disgrace. She still came away with a silver, but her name is all over the internet at websites reporting on her disgrace.

“I was caught up in the moment,” Jacobellis reported, “I was having fun. Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens.”

It’s hard to appreciate Jacobellis’ action as “sharing enthusiasm with the crowd”, but we do see the self centered attitude of “having fun.” She is an incredible athlete, who worked as hard as anyone to get there, but she failed to recognize her role as an ambassador to the world from our country. There is a reason it is so special when they raise your flag at the medal ceremony.

I don’t mean to make this out to be more serious than it is, but our athletes must recognize that the world judges the rest of us in part based on their actions. They represent not just themselves, but our country. The Olympic games are about representing your people to a larger audience – they always have been, even hundreds of years ago in Greece. What the USA does not need is to be perceived as brash and, well, silly. I hope that what we are is something more like Lindsey Kildow. Pushing through obstacles and striving to achieve excellence despite the personal cost. Jacobellis may have won a medal, but Kildow won respect.

***I think I’ve been a bit hard on Lindsey Jacobellis. I just heard her comments on TV and she honorably took full responsibility. She also pointed out that the US is still on the podium. She’s also only 20.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. Ok, so I almost never comment, anywhere, but this was so opposite my reaction to the two stories that I have to put my 2 cents in.

    Honestly, I thought that Jacobellis competed much more in the spirit of the Olympics (and therefore represented her country better) than Kildow.

    In an interview before the Olympics, Kildow came across as competitive, driven, and even bordered on arrogant. She can be friendly but not friends with her teammate and peer (whose name I can’t remember), because they’re always going for the same prize. She wants to win, and that’s really what she cares about in her sport. She came back and skiied when she, at least arguable, shouldn’t have given the trauma her body had been through, driving herself to the edge of functioning and therefore putting herself in even more danger.

    Jacobellis, on the other hand, snowboards because she loves it. In her interview, she talked about how much she loved doing it and how it all just sort of came together for her and was a great dream. She did that trick because she was having fun and wanted to share it with people, and because that’s what you do in her sport (at least, it is according to the male American who won the snowboard cross the day before). She had fun, and she tanked, but she was still able to stand on the podium, smile, and consider her day successful. And it seems that that’s what the Olympics are about–not just winning and representing your country well there, but having a great time performing and showcasing your sport. Jacobellis did that much better than Kildow, and therefore is the “better” representative of America.

    IMHO, of course. And I hope this long rant isn’t entirely out of place.

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  2. Andrew McKnight Selby February 18, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Aegialia, thanks for your comment.

    Kildow may not get along with her teammates, but I don’t think that is anything to be ashamed of considering how they behaved themselves. Julia Mancuso decided to call herself a little princess of alpine skiing by wearing a tiara down the slopes and Resi Stielger wore cheap looking pearls. These two also embarrass me a little as an American. Give me the guts and effort of Kildow over the flashy individuality of her teammates every day.

    It’s fine and good to love your sport and Jacobellis evidently does. However, my point is that you also must represent your country and compete for more than yourself. Jacobellis failed in this. And her teammate who won gold also made the comment that it was over the top – at least that’s what NBC reported last night.

    However, it’s about time for the media to get off her back. Let the poor girl alone who has remorse for her actions!

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  3. I guess the question really comes down to what the Olympics are about. They’re definately about representing your country well and competing for more than yourself, but they, more than most sporting events (I would argue, anyway) are also about having fun and less about smashing the opponent (as a side note, every time I watch the opening ceremonies, I think that there’s no one I’d rather be than the one athlete from some obscure country who has no chance but gets to be there anyway and goes out for love of sport and country). I’d rather see (and claim wholeheartedly for my country), someone having a blast with a tiara or some pearls than someone who is uber-competitive. Yeah, it’s a little silly, a little embarrassing, but I’d rather have athletes who love what they do and happen to be good than athletes who, while still good, are all about winning. Maybe it’s just a personal preference.

    On another note, I also think that that level of competitiveness looks bad. That’s when I’d just as rather not be an American–when our athletes are really competitive and talking smack (not that Kildow did that) and swaggering around. And there’s often a fine line between that and just having fun. I guess I tought Jacobellis, Manusco, and Steigler were having fun, not swaggering, though I can see how it could be taken that way.

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