VANCOUVER - Fairy tales come packaged with nice, neat endings.
Real life can be so very unkind.
Little girls with pretty blonde curls get to dream of fairy tales. Big girls, with those curls twisted into braids and those braids tucked up tight under a helmet, sometimes have to face the unhappy ending.
The way Lindsey Jacobellis did Tuesday.
For four years, this was to be her moment. The narrative seemed so scripted it seemed almost perfect. Get back to the Olympic final in snowboard cross, whip down the hill the way she did in Torino in 2006, easily ahead, the gold medal there for the taking -- except, this time, don't throw the fancy trick and fall down and settle for silver, the way she did four years ago.
Real life got in the way. At these 2010 Vancouver Games, Jacobellis didn't even make the final.
Instead, in a stunner, she went out in the semifinal round.
Dueling with Canada's Maelle Ricker for position in the first turn in the second semifinal heat, Jacobellis got too far out onto the nose of her board. She lost her balance, ripped through a gate on the left side of the course and, that fast, she was done, her hands to her helmet in apparent frustration.
Ricker proved the one writing the redemption story here Tuesday, not Jacobellis. Ricker went on to win gold; four years ago, in the Torino boarder-cross final, she had fallen, indeed gone down so hard she'd had to be airlifted off the course.
Ricker, alone Tuesday at the end of the final just like Jacobellis was in Torino, did not do what Jacobellis had done then. The trick Jacobellis had thrown on her final approach in Torino is a classic snowboarding maneuver called a "method grab." Jacobellis simply didn't land it cleanly. She fell. Switzerland's Tanja Frieden passed her for gold.
In this 2010 final, Ricker kept it neat and clean all the way across the line. "Just absorb the final jump," she said.
Jacobellis was left to dominate the consolation round. She finished fifth.
For four more years now -- assuming she stays in the game, and she's only 24 -- Jacobellis is going to have to keep hearing about Torino.
She had the chance here to put in the past. Instead, it's still going to be with her, fair or not, and in large measure it's not fair, because the move was one of exuberance and impulse, not disrespect for the sport or the Games -- despite the cries of critics who were were quick to label it example A of the perils of showboating.
That moment in Torino is going to stick with her going forward because it was very much with her here, and the only way she could have made it go away was to win, and she didn't.
During the early rounds Tuesday at Cypress Mountain, the weather was so bad, fog blanketing the course time and again, that up in the start house there was a lot of time to kill. At one point, the Canadian television feed showed Jacobellis and her 17-year-old American teammate, Faye Gulini, killing one such break by doing a little dance.
Intoned the sensible, deep-voiced Canadian announcer, "See -- that's what Lindsey needs to do. Do her hot-dogging before the race, not during the race!"
In the weeks leading up to the Games, as part of the recap of the Torino gaffe, Jacobellis had gone through the ritual interrogatories.
"It definitely was a mistake," Jacobellis told the Associated Press last month. "It was a 'Whoops, Oh, dear. I don't know what happened.' But you learn from mistakes and all you can do is grow. If you just stop there and be sour about it, it doesn't show that you're a true athlete who craves the next race."
Upon arrival in Vancouver, she naturally was asked about it some more.
She said at a news conference last week, "I approach every race the same way with the same amount of passion and energy into every race. I want to go out there and win every time. I know that doesn't happen, but I know I have the ability and it's a new year and it's going to be a new day."
The essence of boarder cross is its very unpredictability. The crummy weather Tuesday merely added to the complexity of navigating the turns, rolls and jumps built into the course. What was already difficult became fiendishly difficult, and while the close contact of the four-pack racing from the quarterfinals on is all but guaranteed to produce spills, several racers took themselves out in the qualifying runs with falls, out there alone, racing only against the clock.
"It's like mashed potatoes," Jacobellis had said of the course condition after one of her early runs.
Canada's Dominique Maltais, the boader cross bronze medalist from the 2006 Games, crashed in both of her qualifying runs. She didn't even make the quarterfinals.
Ricker barely made it through qualification.
Jacobellis, though, seemed to be cruising.
Until she went out.
It's a bummer when the dragon doesn't get slain and the prince turns out to be a frog the porridge and the bed are all the wrong size.
Lindsey Jacobellis got fifth.
Fifth, and this reminder from the internal Vancouver 2010 news service, in a story wrapping up the action Tuesday at Cypress Mountain: "Jacobellis is remembered for essentially losing the gold when she crashed on the last jump of the [snowboard cross] course in Torino in 2006."
Swimming star and 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps visits the Olympic Winter Games.
They aren't worrying about a potential gold-medal match up with Canada; they aren't thinking about retirement; aren't concerned about losing six-straight exhibition games to Canada in fall 2009.