Breezy Johnson, Team USA’s biggest Olympic medal contender in women’s downhill racing, announced today that she is withdrawing from the Beijing Olympics due to injury.
Johnson, who was ranked second in the world in downhill this season and had a real shot at claiming her first Olympic medal in Beijing, crashed in a training run right before the World Cup speed events in Zauchensee, Austria on Jan. 13 and injured her knee. While the injury appeared relatively minor, Johnson’s medical team advised her to skip the following Zauchensee events and wait to return to racing until the speed events in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy on Jan. 20-23.
After heeding her team’s advice, Johnson was cleared to return to the start gate in Cortina, but then crashed in the second official downhill training run for the event on Jan. 21. Johnson and the U.S. Ski Team didn’t release any details about that second crash at first, leaving fans and Johnson’s fellow competitors to hope that she’d be able to ski it off and compete in the Olympics as planned. But today Johnson posted to her Instagram account that the Olympics are officially off the table for her.
“I crashed in Cortina the other day and immediately felt a massive crack in my knee,” she wrote. “It was a large chunk of cartilage that is partially dislodged. I was given the option to try to compete on it. But I don’t think that that is realistic or smart. I could do more damage and I certainly don’t think I will be skiing my best.”
Having to withdraw from the Olympics so close to the opening ceremonies would deal a major blow to any athlete, but for Johnson it’s an especially bitter pill to swallow given that she was enjoying the best career of her season leading up to these Games after putting in the work to come back stronger than ever from back-to-back season-ending knee injuries in 2019 and 2020.
“This sport is so brutal,” Johnson concedes in her Instagram post. “Someone asked me yesterday why we do it. And at times like these you wonder…Luckily I’ve been a big fan of ski racing since I was a little kid. So while I always wanted to win an Olympic gold medal, I have a lot of other goals in ski racing. Goals that I can work on for the next four years. Before I return, hopefully, to the hill that stole this Olympic dream from me, for another shot at that gold medal.”
It’s unclear at this point if Johnson may be fit enough to return to World Cup racing this season after the Olympics conclude. There are still two more downhill races in Crans Montana, Switzerland on the women’s World Cup schedule on Feb. 26-27, plus the World Cup Finals in Courchevel, France on March 16. But even if she does return for those races, she no longer has a shot at the World Cup downhill title after missing the last three downhills (Johnson will now also miss the women’s downhill race in Garmisch, Germany on Jan. 26).
With Johnson now definitely out of the running for Olympic gold, a question mark still hovers over Italian Sofia Goggia, who also suffered a horrific crash during the women’s super-G race in Cortina on Jan. 23.
Goggia, who won the women’s downhill event the day before her crash on Jan. 22 and currently still leads the downhill standings, announced that she sustained a partial cruciate ligament tear in her knee and a minor fracture in her fibula in the crash. While she says she started physical therapy and rehab the day of the crash and hopes to be able to ski with those injuries on the Olympic stage, it’s not yet clear whether or not she’ll actually be able to race in Beijing.
If Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, does not race in the Olympics, the women’s downhill event in Beijing on Feb. 15 will go on without the top two medal contenders in the discipline.