2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Spotlight: Alissa Johnson
Beginning in 2002 with her hometown Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, 26-year-old ski jumper Alissa Johnson has not missed a Winter Games.
But, with the 2014 Sochi Olympics less than 100 days away, Johnson’s goal is to experience these Games in a different way.
"I’ve been to the last three Winter Games as a spectator," she said. "So I’m excited to see it from the other side of the fence."
Since women’s ski jumping will be making its Olympic debut, Johnson will have a chance to join her brother, Anders, as a representative of Team USA.
That would be quite an opportunity for Johnson, who, after completing her first jump at the age of five, has more than 20 years of ski jumping experience. With that comes a familiarity for the sport that not many athletes have. She said wind, weather and other factors that might intimidate a younger athlete don’t really affect her any more.
"When the weather gets bad or it gets windy, those are things you can’t control," she said. "You just have to go back to your basics your normal routine. I’ve been doing it so long and I’ve had so many jumps that it takes a lot to make my heart rate recognize that fear."
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that give her butterflies in her stomach.
"The last time I was nervous was probably when we were in Holmenkollen in our closing jump on the big hill," she said. "I had jumped there before, but I had never jumped in front of 70,000 or 80,000 people. It was so weird because the noise that comes off of that many people was making me more excited to jump."
Traveling across the globe to Sochi would provide another high-energy moment for Johnson, who said the atmosphere at the Olympics is truly unique.
"For someone that’s never been to an Olympics, it’s like the world moves in," she said. "It’s the biggest party in the world. All the politics get left behind and it’s just this big celebration. It’s very pure in that sense."
She remembers her first Olympic experience, the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, fondly.
"My dad worked for the Salt Lake organizing committee and he organized the Games for the ski jumping/Nordic combined events [held in Park City], so we were around it and we always had tickets," she said. "We spent like every day up there."
Sochi is the ultimate goal for Johnson and she acknowledges that there’s a lot of work to be done before then. With a handful of World Cup events all across Europe before the Olympics begin, she’s hoping to build momentum while remaining energetic and healthy.
That’s easier said than done for someone who isn’t a huge fan of long-distance travel.
"I love traveling, but I hate being on an airplane," she said. "It’s funny because the older you get, the worse jet lag gets. So those first few days you’re going somewhere or coming home from somewhere, you don’t know up from down. I don’t think people realize that we go to Europe eight times a season sometimes. It’s back-and-forth a lot of cancelled flights, delayed flights, missed baggage you just kind of have to go with it."
For the most part, though, she manages to find humor in failed plans and airport mishaps.
"My favorite thing is to see people at the airport when things don’t go right those colossal meltdowns," she said. "And you just sit there like, ‘What are you going to do about it? The flight’s canceled. That’s just how it is. Get comfortable, you’re going to be here a while.’"
But, even with the long trips and large chunks of time spent in airports, Johnson knows just how lucky she is to be competing in the sport she loves.
"I’ve had some pretty great experiences," she said. "I’ve gotten to do things not many 20-something-year-old kids get to do travel the world with a tight-knit group of people. It’s been pretty incredible so far."
She hopes the journey takes her to Sochi and beyond. Even though her future plans include finishing nursing school, she’s in no hurry for her career to be over.
"I think I’ll always be involved in it at some level," she said. "I look at my dad and how he’s been involved for like 50+ years now. There’s no way I’m just going to be able to pick up and leave it all behind."
Every week until the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, The Park Record will highlight an Olympic hopeful with ties to the Park City area. Check back next week for a story about ski jumper Lindsey Van.
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Park City is the lone undefeated team in Region 10 play after a 60-30 win over Mountain View. The Miners have three more region games in their quest to repeat as region champions.