Breezy Johnson, top U.S. downhill skier, to miss Winter Olympics

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Breezy Johnson, the world’s second-best female downhill ski racer, will miss the 2022 Winter Olympics after tearing cartilage in her right knee in a training run crash last Friday.

“I’ve always wanted to win the downhill globe [season title]. I’ve always wanted to win an Olympic medal,” Johnson, a 26-year-old who returned from one of several prior knee injuries to race at the 2018 Olympics, said by phone from Europe on Monday. “So, to be in this position where I felt within striking distance for both until this happens, and now you never know if those things are going to happen again, makes it really hard. You just really feel how close you can come, and then it can all be taken away from you again.”

Johnson has been the top U.S. Alpine skier the last two seasons aside from Mikaela Shiffrin.

This season, she finished second to 2018 Olympic champion Sofia Goggia of Italy in each of the first three World Cup downhills. Then Johnson suffered a small meniscus tear in her right knee in a separate training crash on Jan. 8.

(Goggia crashed in a super-G on Sunday, causing leg injuries that will make it challenging for her to race at the Olympics. It’s possible the Olympic downhill includes neither of the world’s top two women.)

Last week, Johnson planned to race on the World Cup for the first time since Dec. 19 and that Jan. 8 crash. But she flew off a jump in the second training run before Saturday’s downhill, landed and felt a big crack in her knee.

Johnson got up and skied down the course in pain. An MRI revealed a cartilage impaction tear. She had the option of trying to ski on it at the Olympics, but on Saturday night decided not to after doctors told her that delaying surgery would significantly lessen her chances of competing next season

“I’m not sure that I’m physically capable of going down a downhill course,” Johnson said. “I don’t know that one race, that I definitely would be, in some capacity, limping through, is worth a whole season next year. Like, is worth the risk and the potential reinjury.

“I’m already an Olympian. So I guess that factored in. I don’t need to go to say I’m an Olympian. I’m trying to go to these Games because I want to win a medal.”

She had second thoughts after learning that Goggia, after Sunday’s crash and injuries, still planned to race at the Olympics.

“That’s just a natural part of this process,” Johnson said. “You don’t make a hard decision about this and just never look back.”

In March 2017, Johnson, an Idahoan like Picabo Street and who idolized Lindsey Vonn, did the splits and somersaulted down the course in the World Cup Finals downhill. She escaped with just a tibial plateau fracture, returned to skiing four months later and made her first Olympic team the following winter.

She was the youngest woman to finish in the top 10 in the 2018 Olympic downhill (seventh), auguring well for the future.

But Johnson missed the following season after tearing her right ACL in a training crash. Before she could return to competition, she tore her left PCL and MCL in a June 2019 giant slalom training fall.

She went 22 months between races, spending months at a time sleeping with her knees on bolsters. Johnson struggled with depression.

“When I was injured last time, I had no idea if I would be good again,” Johnson said Monday. “Today, I feel a lot more confident that if I work hard, I will come back and be able to be on podiums and win races.”

She returned to ski racing in 2020. In her first full season back, she placed third in four consecutive World Cup downhills (her first podiums) and finished the season ranked fourth in the world in the event.

This season, she went a step higher. Before being sidelined, Johnson was the only woman to finish within nine tenths of a second of Goggia in any downhill.

“I felt like I was skiing as well as I’ve ever skied,” Johnson said. “I felt a little invincible.”

If Goggia has to miss the Olympics, then a healthy Johnson would have been favored to become the second U.S. Olympic women’s downhill champion (joining Vonn).

Johnson spoke with Vonn before announcing her Olympic withdrawal.

“There’s not really a lot that I can say that will make her feel any better,” Vonn said. “She’s making a smart decision, and she’s going to be ready for next season. I think she can take solace in knowing that she prepared the best way she could, she was fit and ready to execute.”

The two have a mentor-mentee relationship dating to 2015, when a 19-year-old Johnson first joined the U.S. team and inspected race courses with the legend.

“The same way I feel an obligation to my team, I feel an obligation to Lindsey, to live up to her legacy,” Johnson said. “You know, my success is like a part of her success. It’s hard to be like, sorry, I can’t do it.”

Vonn tried to rush back from her own right knee injuries to defend her Olympic downhill title in 2014 and ultimately had to withdraw.

“[Johnson] is going to carve her own legacy into the World Cup by coming back next season,” said Vonn, who returned to break the women’s World Cup wins record and earn a 2018 Olympic bronze medal before retiring in 2019. “And just because she misses this Olympics doesn’t mean that she’s not going to have more opportunities.

“This will just drive her some more. That’s the kind of person she is.”

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and reportedly said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together.”

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”