Krasnaya Polyana, Russia • Faye Gulini just needed one more rival to fall, and she would have won an Olympic medal.
That’s a tribute to the Salt Lake City native’s consistency and the capricious nature of the snowboardcross event, which produced another round of misadventures Sunday at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Defending champion Maelle Ricker of Canada crashed in the quarterfinals, and the Olympic curse continued for American star Lindsey Jacobellis. She was leading her semifinal heat in the late stages when she fell upon landing after a routine jump.
Australia’s Torah Bright, a Salt Lake City resident, completed her ambitious, three-event Games by making the quarterfinals before falling.
Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic won the gold medal. Gulini finished fourth after being eliminated in the quarterfinals in Vancouver in 2010 when she was 17. She loved competing in the finals, representing a big career advancement during what she labeled "a rough season," while accepting the mixed blessing of a fourth-place finish in the Olympics.
"It would have been nice to get on the podium," she said. "It’s hard being so close."
A medal would have made Gulini a big story. She once skated as a "Child of Light" in the opening ceremony of her hometown Olympics. And here she was Sunday, steadily advancing in another wild episode of the event that resembles a NASCAR race on snow.
"That’s why I love it, because anything can happen," said Bright, who had earned a silver medal in the halfpipe event, her specialty. "It’s the best spectating sport because you don’t need to understand why a judge scored someone some way or ... understand the trickery."
It’s a sport of attrition. Six riders compete in each heat, and having all of them remain upright is rare in snowboardcross. That’s Gulini’s game, though. She finished third in her quarterfinal and semifinal races, just good enough to advance as some contestants fell. Other riders’ troubles also helped her move up in the final race, but only to fourth place.
"Where I kind of excel is that I’m consistent," said Gulini, who attends Westminster College. "I’m really good at staying on my feet."
That ability took her a long way Sunday, when all kinds of mayhem was occurring on an "intimidating" course with big jumps and sharp, banked turns that played with the minds of the riders, Gulini said.
This was another eventful Olympics for Ricker, who crashed during the 2006 finals in Italy and sustained a concussion and other injuries. She won on home snow in Canada in 2010, but was eliminated with a fall in Sunday’s quarterfinals.
Jacobellis’ seemingly fictional story of the Games added another chapter. She scrambled to a silver medal in 2006 after she attempted to complete a dominating victory by performing an unnecessary trick on the last jump and fell. In 2010, she was leading her semifinal heat, only to run into a boundary flag.
This time, with a comfortable lead, she soared off a jump and hit the soft snow — "kind of like landing on mashed potatoes," she said — and fell as others raced past her.
"Pressure can kill a person, it really can," Gulini said, expressing empathy for Jacobellis. "She deserves a gold medal, whether it’s in four years or whenever."
Jacobellis, 28, said she’ll likely try for a fourth Olympics. "It’s a challenging moment for me right now," she said. "It’s unfortunate that I didn’t make it to the final, just because of a small mistake."
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