America’s top downhill skier has a message for critics of the U.S. alpine ski program: trust the process.
Breezy Johnson, who missed the 2022 Olympics after suffering a knee injury in January, wrote a column for Ski Racing arguing that the U.S. alpine program does not need a complete overhaul after earning just one medal in Beijing.“Why does pushing back matter? Why should any of us on the team care what rhetoric gets thrown our way? Because if you want change, which you claim you do, you might just throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson’s piece was a rebuttal to a rebuttal to a column that criticized the program for its lack of medals. The entire U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team came under fire following the Winter Games, where the program’s star, Mikaela Shiffrin, skied away empty-handed. Jesse Hunt, the team’s alpine director, resigned just days after the closing ceremonies.
The program hit a high mark at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, where it claimed eight medals. Four years later, the team took another five medals at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. Johnson, 26, attributed that success in part due to the country’s abundance of generational talent, but not, she argued, as a result of the program’s ability to develop up-and-coming skiers.
“In the 2010-2014 era the U.S. Ski Team had five, count them five, once-in-a-lifetime talents: Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso, Olympic legend Bode Miller, undoubtedly the greatest male ski racer in U.S. history, and Ted Ligety, one of the greatest Giant Slalom skiers ever,” Johnson wrote. “These athletes came to the team, save for perhaps Ted to a degree, with all the makings of getting them to the top.”
By contrast, Johnson wrote, the current program lacks numerous top stars—she pointed to Shiffrin as its top performer—and instead has a wealth of up-and-coming athletes who could achieve bigger results in the future.
“The reality is this team was a knife’s edge away from 8 realistic medals, Mikaela could have gotten four, I could have gotten one, River [Radamus] could have gotten one, the Team could have gotten one, and [Ryan Cochran-Siegle] did get one,” Johnson wrote. “That’s the same haul as Vancouver, our best games. But welcome to ski racing. We all took Mikaela for granted all this time and the reality is that almost every American great in the last 25 years had a down Olympics, Lindsey, 2006, Ted, 2010, and Bode 2006. It happens. All of those athletes became fiercer and better, if not because of it, then after it.”