Anders Johnson getting an early jump on Sochi
When Anders Johnson sits atop the hill in Kranj, Slovenia, today, the Parkite will officially kick off his drive for a third Olympic Winter Games appearance.
But the journey hasn’t been painless for the 23-year-old ski jumper, who made his Olympic debut at the tender age of 16 at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy. The promising start to Johnson’s career has been littered with injuries that have set back the 2006 graduate of the Winter Sports School. Following an ill-timed injury to his knee in August of 2009, Johnson had to rehab from a torn ACL in order to qualify for the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
He made it there, where he finished 11th in the team large-hill competition and 49th in the individual normal-hill jump.
"I came back from ACL surgery in three-and-a-half months," he said during a phone interview from Slovenia Tuesday morning. "It was an accelerated rehab. It was tough to get jumping again, but I was able to get a few good results leading into the games and qualified. After knee surgery, I was told by a lot of doctors there was no chance I could make the team due to the time of the injury. But I made it back."
Despite such a quick recovery from his ACL injury, his opposite knee had to be scoped soon after.
"In the last three years, with coming back from injuries and knee pain, it’s made jumping difficult," he said.
So this weekend’s Continental Cup in Kranj will provide a platform for Johnson to showcase how he’s reinvented himself. His training methods have changed. Instead of strenuous weight-lifting sessions, he started running and biking around the trails in Park City. He’s become a regular at yoga classes and is eating healthier than he has in the past.
"I changed my approach this spring and I feel better," he said. "This is the first time in a while I’ve been pain free. I feel healthy again, and I am able to set healthy goals and expectations for myself. I want to keep the momentum going."
Slovenia isn’t a foreign place to Johnson; he has competed there numerous times in his career. According to the USA Ski Jumping website, the best jump of Johnson’s career was 173 meters in Planica, Slovenia.
The Continental Cup circuit, which Johnson said is one step below the World Cup, will feature some of the sport’s best jumpers this weekend. Unlike in years past, when the sport’s top flyers would take breaks during the summer, that core has been forced to enter extra events in order to adjust to a new ruling regarding competitive suits.
"Not many people used to compete in them," he said of the Continental Cup events. "Now, it’s the same field and level as the World Cup circuit. With this rule change and it being a World Championship year, these competitions have become a little more important than in the past."
Johnson said in the past, there was more leeway within the sport with what jumpers could wear. Starting outfits used to be able to have up to six centimeters of extra space for mobility. This year, flyers will be competing in skin-tight suits.
"It not only makes it uncomfortable, but it changes your flight a lot," he said. "Ski jumping has a lot to do with extra dynamics. Now that they’re skin-tight, it’s really changed the flight patterns and it’s kind of difficult.
"You’re just going a little bit faster in the air, cutting through the air rather than floating. It’s made it a little bit difficult to adjust body position to get comfortable in the air. Lucky for us, we were able to get the suits early enough to get jumping in them a month ahead of time."
With Sochi now in his sights, Johnson said he must take a baby-steps approach if he wants to qualify for his third straight Winter Games. He competed in Austria last weekend and went in with low expectations. He finished in the top 15 in both days of the competition.
"I haven’t been that competitive in three years now," he said. "With where I’m at now, I am finally feeling physically better, and just have the hopes of getting my feet back under me at competitions — just progressing slowly, not getting upset when things don’t go well. I have to take everything with a grain of salt."
He did mention this season’s World Championship event as something he’s eagerly looking forward to since the inclusion of the mixed-team event, which will involve two top men and two top women from each country. Johnson’s sister, Alissa, is part of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, the team that is currently ranked No. 1 in the world. He said if things continue to go well for him at competitions, he could very well be part of a fearsome American foursome to compete for the mixed-team event gold medal.
"One of our big goals coming in is to be successful in that event with the women," he said. "I grew up jumping with all those girls. I think it will be really awesome."
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