Johnson ready to hit the hill again
JJ (as in Justin J.) Johnson, who got a mythical gold medal for persistence and determination and tenaciousness in the way he held onto his Olympic dream (it was like he sunk his teeth into it and then got lockjaw) reclaiming a place on the U.S. Ski Team, will be back in Park City this weekend. He’s washing his laundry, seeing family and friends, and catching his breath before heading to the Canadian Rockies for the first downhill of the World Cup ski season.
He’s looking to create some redemption from his Winter ’06, his winter of frustration.
Johnson has been training with the Ski Team in Colorado, enjoying the strong early season snows at Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort. The first speed events of the season are next weekend at Lake Louise with a downhill Saturday and super-G Sunday; Johnson will be in the downhill and, depending on how he skis in training during the week, could land a spot in the super-G.
A year ago, Johnson was 46th in downhill and tied for 35th at Lake Louise. A week later, he was 45th in DH and failed to finish the super-G at the VISA Birds of Prey races in Beaver Creek, Colo. He could feel things tightening and he became his own worst enemy, struggling to produce the results that would land a spot on the Olympic Team and send him to Torino in February.
As frustrated as he was last season when he couldn’t pull things together enough to make the Olympic Team, Johnson is re-energized and nothing but positive (again) as he approaches the start to his season. Non-ski fun filled his lead-up to the annual below-the-Equator training camps in late summer.
"I got away from everything [during most of the preseason]," he said this week in a telephone interview from Copper, "and played a lot of golf. I had a bit of a game plan for New Zealand in August and Chile in September, and it’s worked out well. I never pushed it, did what I felt I had to do…and I’ve been cranking it up over the last week or two.
"Copper’s been great – an 80-second downhill track at 12,000 feet – and Keystone’s been unbelievable. It’s Game Time, and I feel I’m ready. I’ve got the speed going, it’s all rolling."
And last season is ancient history for the guy with – according to teammates – 37 nicknames, right?
"Yeah, definitely. I started in Lake Louise and was 10th in the first training run and felt really good, but then I started thinking so much about the outcome. ‘Oh, here I am at 28, all this time and now I have a chance to make the Olympic Team’…and I started pressing instead of just skiing like I know I can.
"I had so much on the outcome and just put so much weight on my shoulders, and then I let it spiral a bit. I went to Europe, was fifth in training in Val d’Isere [France]…but was 42nd, and I kept getting tighter and tighter…and it got away from me," Johnson said. Finishing 27th a week later in Val Gardena, Italy, couldn’t stem the free-fall.
"I think I’ve learned from that. I want to keep the same intensity but get back to having some fun, getting back to proving that I can ski with these guys. I know I can," he said. "I don’t want to lose touch again" with what he feels he’s capable of doing.
A 2005 World Championships competitor, Johnson – who turned 29 in September – switched to Fischer Skis, boots and bindings after last season. He’s a happy camper, having adjusted surprisingly quickly to the new gear, he said, and savoring the fact Steve Nyman, another Park City Ski Team alumnus, and he were given the waxing tech who used to work with Italian star Kristian Ghedina. "No complaints there," Johnson said.
After missing the Olympics, Johnson finished the season on an up-note, winning the FIS downhill that opened the TD Banknorth alpine championships last March and grabbing the DH bronze medal in the U.S. title race the next day. He looks to carry that momentum into the season.
From that high, though, Johnson hit a roadblock a few days later when he was a stuntman in a movie being shot at Snowbasin. He tried to explain what they wanted to shoot wasn’t a safe stunt, and after they reconsidered — and then re-reconsidered and went with the original, unsafe approach anyway, he went backwards off a jump and some 40 meters through the air, landing on his right hip and injuring his left shoulder.
He took an involuntary step back, reduced his early preseason training, turned to the zen of golf – with friends at Park Meadows and Promontory and Dad, who’s a member at Glenwild – and got himself into good shape, mentally and physically. He also worked with a Swiss gent, who was in Park City, to help organize himself on race day, and Johnson feels that should have a good payoff starting in Lake Louise.
"It’s the last two minutes and what happens if something changes? It’s pretty simple stuff but, yeah, it’s very subtle – you know what to do, but you don’t know how to organize it, how to control it sometimes. We did eight or nine sessions – before New Zealand, before Chile, and a couple after Chile…and it’s been great.
"He lies in Zurich – he was here on sabbatical – and he’ll be at Wengen [in January] and he’s someone I can call on, if I have a problem. It was what I really needed," according to Johnson.
A new season, a new outlook for Justin J. Johnson. He’s anxious to let things rip when he gets to Lake Louise by midweek. Video streaming online will be available through http://www.wcsn.com and live timing is available at http://www.fis-ski.com .
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