With the Pyeongchang Olympics looming, American downhill skier Breezy Johnson has come close to fulfilling her dream: Sharing a podium with Lindsey Vonn.
Johnson, who is a student at Western Washington University during the spring quarter, placed fourth on Saturday in a World Cup downhill won by Vonn, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist. After two 10th places, this was her best career result by far, and only 0.21 seconds separated her from the top three.
“Fourth is a nice number,” the speed specialist from Jackson, Wyoming told The Associated Press. “I tried to ski as good as I could and, yeah, I was a little surprised.”
Johnson had an attacking but clean run. Halfway down the course, she was more than half a second faster than then-leader Cornelia Huetter. However, she ultimately trailed the Austrian by just over two tenths of a second at the finish. Italy skier Sofia Goggia also beat Johnson’s time.
“When I came down I thought that I had a pretty good run and I was just hoping that it would hold,” she said.
The result was no fluke.
Two hours before the race in a mandatory training session, which had been rescheduled following cancellations in the days before, Johnson posted the fastest time, and even led Vonn by 0.29 seconds.
It was no coincidence the result came on the Kandahar course. Johnson scored her first World Cup points here two years ago when she was 28th in a downhill that was also won by Vonn.
“The first time I came here, I was third in the training run so I really love this hill,” Johnson said. “I don’t really think of it as a hill that suits me but this one has a special place as I scored my first points.”
After the training session, organizers lowered the start for the actual race, but another downhill on the same course will be run from the top on Sunday.
“Us, true downhillers, prefer the true downhill,” she said. “I can do really good on the top. Hopefully Lindsey and I can actually share a podium.”
To the U.S. ski team, Johnson’s breakthrough achievement didn’t come as a surprise.
“She has been skiing well on a course that actually suits her,” women’s team coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. “She had a really good training run this morning so we actually expected something. She proved she was able to deliver that.”
Could Johnson become an outside medal contender in the Feb. 21 downhill at her first Olympics?
According to Hoedlmoser, her capabilities are “pretty much unlimited.”
“She is improving technically day by day and every training session,” he said. “She is an incredible glider, we know that. She is going to be good.”