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

Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup - Women's Downhill Training
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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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Mikaela Shiffrin finishes World Cup with one more win, two more records and a revelation


Mikaela Shiffrin finished a season defined by records with two more.

Shiffrin won the World Cup Finals giant slalom on the final day of the campaign, breaking her ties for the most career women’s giant slalom wins and most career podiums across all women’s World Cup races.

Shiffrin earned her record-extending 88th career World Cup victory, prevailing by six hundredths over Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway combining times from two runs in Andorra on Sunday.

An encore of Shiffrin’s record-breaking 87th World Cup win airs on NBC next Sunday from 12-1 p.m. ET.


She won her 21st career GS, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s.

She made her 138th career World Cup podium across all events, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin earned her 138th podium in her 249th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

Earlier this season, Shiffrin passed Vonn and then Ingemar Stenmark, a Swede of the 1970s and ’80s, for the most career Alpine skiing World Cup victories. She won 14 times from November through March, her second-best season after her record 17-win campaign of 2018-19.

In those years in between, Shiffrin endured the most difficult times of her life, was supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier and questioned her skiing like never before.

On Saturday afternoon, Shiffrin was asked what made the difference this fall and winter. There were multiple factors. She detailed one important one.

“I had a lot of problems with my memory,” she said in a press conference. “Not this season, so much, but last season and the season before that. I couldn’t remember courses. And when I was kind of going through this, I couldn’t keep mental energy for the second runs.”

Pre-race course inspection and the ability to retain that knowledge for a minute-long run over an hour later is integral to success in ski racing. Shiffrin is so meticulous and methodical in her training, historically prioritizing it over racing in her junior days, that inspection would seem to fit into her all-world preparation.

She didn’t understand how she lost that ability until she began working with a new sports psychologist last summer.

“That was a little bit like less focus on sports psychology and more focus on, like, psychology psychology and a little bit more grief counseling style,” she said. “Explaining what was actually going on in my brain, like chemical changes in the brain because of trauma. Not just grief, but actually the traumatic experience itself of knowing what happened to my dad, seeing him in the hospital, touching him after he was dead. Those are things that you can’t get out of your head. It had an impact. Clearly, it still does.”

Shiffrin had a “weird a-ha moment” after her first course inspection this season in November in Finland.

“I didn’t take that long to inspect, and I remembered the whole course,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I was like coming out of a cloud that I had been in for over two years.”

What followed was a win, of course, and a season that approached Shiffrin’s unrivaled 2018-19. Fourteen wins in 31 World Cup starts, her busiest season ever, and bagging the season titles in the overall, slalom and GS in runaways.

“After last season, I didn’t feel like I could get to a level with my skiing again where it was actually contending for the slalom globe,” she said. “And GS, I actually had a little bit more hope for, but then at the beginning of the season, I kind of counted myself out.

“I feel like my highest level of skiing has been higher than the previous couple of seasons, maybe higher than my whole career. My average level of skiing has been also higher than previous seasons, and my lowest level of skiing has also been higher.”

There are other reasons for the revival of dominance, though Shiffrin was also the world’s best skier last season (Olympics aside). She went out of her way on Saturday afternoon to credit her head coach of seven years, Mike Day, who left the team during the world championships after he was told he would not be retained for next season.

“He is as much a part of the success this entire season as he’s ever been,” said Shiffrin, who parted with Day to bring aboard Karin Harjo, the first woman to be her head coach as a pro.

Shiffrin’s greatest success this season began around the time she watched a a mid-December chairlift interview between retired Liechtenstein skier Tina Weirather and Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top downhiller. Goggia spoke about her disdain for mediocrity.

“Ever since then, pretty much every time I put on my skis, I’m like, ‘OK, don’t be mediocre today,’” Shiffrin said in January.

During the highest highs of this season, Shiffrin felt like she did in 2018-19.

“It is mind-boggling to me to be in a position again where I got to feel that kind of momentum through a season because after that [2018-19] season, I was like, this is never going to happen again, and my best days of my career are really behind me, which it was kind of sad to feel that at this point four years ago,” said Shiffrin, who turned 28 years old last week. “This season, if anything, it just proved that, take 17 wins [from 2018-19] aside or the records or all those things, it’s still possible to feel that kind of momentum.”

After one last victory Sunday, Shiffrin sat in the winner’s chair with another crystal globe and took questions from an interviewer. It was her boyfriend, Norwegian Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“Excited to come back and do it again next year,” she replied to one question.

“Yeah,” he wittily replied. “You will.”

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Russia ban runs through Olympic gymnastics team qualifying deadline

Russia Gymnastics

Russia’s ban from international sport extended long enough that, as rules stand, its gymnasts cannot qualify to defend Olympic men’s and women’s team titles at the 2024 Paris Games, even if they are reinstated to compete elsewhere before the Games start.

Should the ban be lifted in time, they can still qualify for the Paris Games to compete in individual events.

Gymnasts from Russia, and other European nations not already qualified, need to compete at next month’s European Championships to stay on the path toward Olympic qualification in the men’s and women’s team events.

Earlier this month, the European Gymnastics Federation was asked by what date must bans on Russian athletes be lifted for them to be eligible to compete at the European Championships.

“According to our rules, changes can be made until the draw,” the federation’s head of media wrote in a March 8 email.

The draw for the European Championships was held Tuesday. Russian gymnasts, who are still banned from international competition for the war in Ukraine, were not included in the draw.

The 2024 Olympic team event fields will be filled by the top finishers at this fall’s world championships, plus the medalists from last year’s worlds. Teams can only qualify for worlds via continental championships, such as the European Championships, or the previous year’s world championships.

The International Gymnastics Federation, whose Olympic qualifying rules were published by the IOC last April, was asked if there is any other way that gymnasts from Russia could qualify for the Olympic team events. It responded by forwarding a March 3 press release that stated that Russia and Belarus gymnasts remain banned “until further notice.”

Russia’s gymnastics federation has not responded to a Monday morning request for comment.

Last December, the IOC said it planned to explore a possibility that Russian and Belarusian athletes could enter Asian competitions if and when they are reinstated. There have been no further updates on that front. The Asian Gymnastics Championships are in June.

In Tokyo, Russian women, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee rather than Russia due to the nation’s doping violations, won the team title over the heavily favored U.S. after Simone Biles withdrew after her opening vault with the twisties. It marked the first Olympic women’s team title for Russian gymnasts since the Soviet Union broke up.

At last year’s worlds, the U.S. won the women’s team title in the absence of the banned Russians.

Russian men won the Tokyo Olympic team title by 103 thousandths of a point over Japan, their first gold in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games.

China won last year’s world men’s team title over Japan and Great Britain.

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