American downhiller Breezy Johnson realized repeatedly the last few years that, at any moment, ski racing could be taken away from her. Crashes led to significant leg injuries in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
But Johnson, a hardened 24, is cherishing the sport at the moment.
She scored her first World Cup podium in a downhill in Val d’Isere, France on Friday, She repeated the third-place finish in another downhill in the French Alpine resort Saturday, becoming the first U.S. woman other than Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn to make consecutive World Cup podiums in eight years.
“After injury, I’m just trying to seize every moment,” Johnson said.
The last two days, the only faster skiers were Swiss Corinne Suter, the reigning World Cup downhill season champion, and Italian Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill gold medalist. Suter and Goggia traded first- and second-place finishes, consolidating their medal favorite statuses for the world championships in February and the Olympics in 14 months.
Johnson believes she can consistently challenge the world’s best.
“These podiums have been coming on for a while,” said Johnson, who was named after her grandmother’s neighbor, learned to ski down the family driveway and was seventh in the PyeongChang Olympic downhill as the youngest U.S. speed racer. “I definitely had the goal to win a World Cup, go for a world championship medal this year. I think this is the beginning.”
Johnson made her first international splash at age 20, placing 11th in a 2016 World Cup downhill in Lake Louise. She notched her first top-10 the next month and qualified for that season’s World Cup Finals, where she somersaulted in the first of three serious crashes that sidelined her with leg injuries. Johnson was more than one year younger than anybody else in the top 30 of the downhill standings.
She came back from a tibial plateau fracture to make her first Olympic team at age 22 in 2018. Johnson was the youngest woman to finish in the top 10 in the downhill in PyeongChang, fueling hope she could succeed Lindsey Vonn as the premier American speed racer (Shiffrin can start — and win — all disciplines but focuses more on slalom and giant slalom).
Johnson hoped that her first World Cup podium would be shared with Vonn, but the legend retired in 2019 after a litany of injuries.
Johnson tore her right ACL in a September 2018 training crash and missed the entire season. She then tore her left PCL and MCL in a June 2019 giant slalom training fall. She showed Vonn-like resilience in returning last season — on about five days of training — and grabbing a pair of fifth-place World Cup finishes.
Preseason training was curtailed this year for many, especially Americans, due to the coronavirus pandemic closing ski resorts and limiting travel in Europe.
No matter, Johnson is one of five different U.S. men or women to make a World Cup podium less than two months into the five-month campaign. Two Americans made a podium all of last season. One did so the year before that.
“These are the moments we have all dreamed about!” was posted on Johnson’s Instagram after Friday’s result. “The ones that have been swirling around in our minds for so long that we almost can’t believe it when they happen in real life! Someone pinch me.”
On Saturday, she appeared a seasoned victor, looking into the finish-area camera to wish her mom a happy birthday.
“I was definitely happy to just be in the finish in one piece,” Johnson said of the bumpy run with challenging sections of flat light. “I maybe gave her a heart attack for her birthday.”
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