Snowboarder who beat Jacobellis in 2006: ‘I’m so happy for her’

Lindsey Jacobellis at the 2006 Torino Olympics, with gold medalist Tanja Frieden of Switzerland
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When Lindsey Jacobellis crossed the finish line to win gold in women’s snowboard cross – the first U.S. gold medal of the 2022 Winter Olympics – the Connecticut native pumped her fists in the air.

Over 5,000 miles away in Gwatt, Switzerland, Tanja Frieden was celebrating, too.

“I’m so happy for her,” Frieden said on Wednesday. “She definitely deserved it. She’s such an amazing athlete.”

Frieden’s name might not be familiar to American readers, even though she played a major role in one of the most iconic – and infamous – moments in U.S. Olympic history.

At the 2006 Torino Winter Games, Jacobellis became famous for one of the biggest blunders in sports history when she lost her lead after going for a celebratory board grab on the second-to-last jump.

Final Cross - Womens Snowboard
BARDONECCHIA, ITALY – Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States grabs her board before falling during the women’s snowboard cross final at the 2006 Winter Olympics. (Photo by Sandra Behne/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Switzerland’s Freiden was the athlete who capitalized on that showboat move. As Jacobellis righted her board, her momentum obliterated, Frieden soared past her to claim gold.

“I was dreaming about that, for sure,” Frieden said of winning the inaugural gold medal in women’s snowboard cross.

At the time, Frieden was dating American Seth Wescott, who won Olympic gold in the men’s event one day earlier. “We went for it, wishing to win two gold medals at the Olympics, the first boardercross Olympics.”

But as Frieden, then 30, celebrated her gold medal, she struggled with the way Jacobellis’ silver-medal performance was received.

“She won silver, right? And she was young,” Frieden said. “It was quite crazy from the outside world…. I think the media in the (United) States was super harsh with her.

“I really could feel the pain that she had.”

For Frieden, this was no abstract feeling of pain. It was a lesson that she had learned too, taught by Lindsey Jacobellis herself.

Three years earlier, at the 2003 X Games, it was Frieden who led the women’s boardercross final.

With the finish line in sight, “I was completely already seeing the medal around my neck,” Frieden recalled. “I went over the last jump in the lead and I didn’t really fight for the last meters.

“Lindsey just overtook me at the end and I got silver and gave the gold away,” Frieden said. “She overtook me because I was kind of standing up… That was a big learning point for me, as well.”

After that 2003 loss, Frieden told the Aspen Times, “[Jacobellis] is a great rider. But that’s the game. [This year] I got second. Next year I will get first.”

It would take her three years, not one, to live up to that promise, but when she did, she did it on the world’s biggest stage.

While Frieden was always among the world’s best riders during her career, that 2006 gold medal is the only title she ever won at a major event (world championships, X Games, Olympics). She retired in 2010 and now has her own academy in Switzerland that helps people overcome their hurdles, “like the struggles Lindsey was having,” Frieden said.

A few days ago, with the Winter Olympics on the horizon, Frieden said she reached out to Jacobellis over social media. “I told her, ‘Hey, go for it.’ It should be her time now.”

While Frieden hasn’t kept in close touch with Jacobellis since she retired, she has remained impressed by what the 10-time X Games champion accomplished in the sport, and how she helped elevate the level of boardercross.

“I’m super happy for her and that she could fulfill that last part of her dream career.”

NBC Sports’ Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC