Vail’s Tess Johnson: ‘Overwhelmed with happiness’ after first podium at world championships | VailDaily.com

Vail’s Tess Johnson: ‘Overwhelmed with happiness’ after first podium at world championships

Local reflects on bronze medal at Worlds

Best friends, teammates and world championship medalists, Vail's Tess Johnson, left, and Jaelin Kauf celebrate after Saturday night's FIS Snowboard Freestyle Freeski World Championships dual moguls in Deer Valley, Utah. Johnson, 18, won her first worlds medal, a bronze.
Rick Bowmer | Associated press file photo

DEER VALLEY, Utah — Vail’s Tess Johnson finished ahead of Kazakhstan’s Yulia Galysheva in the race for the bronze medal at the FIS Snowboard Freestyle Freeski World Championships dual moguls on Saturday night at Deer Valley, Utah, but she didn’t know if she had done enough.

Speed is only 25 percent of the score; the rest — the difficulty and execution of jumps, the tightness of the line through the moguls among other factors — is up to the judges.

“I knew I had skied great,” Johnson said. “We were neck and neck, but she has a great air package and does grabs on both jumps. It was key that I took the speed, but I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Through the snow, the crowd and the cacophony of noise, Johnson, 18, finally saw the little No. 3 next to her name on the scoreboard, and knew that she had won a bronze medal at worlds.

“I was overwhelmed with happiness,” Johnson said. “The crowd roared and I was immediately on cloud nine.”

Johnson’s parents, TJ and Carol, jumped the fence to join her, and after the assorted duties of a world-championship medalist like podium photo sessions, medal ceremonies and news conferences, the celebration continued at the house of the family of Jaelin Kauf, Johnson’s teammate, best friend and silver medalist on Saturday night.

Johnson has three podiums, including a dual-moguls win last season, and she has been to the Olympics, but Worlds bronze seems like No. 1 in the book for her.

“It ranks probably as the best out of all of them,” Johnson said. “To do it on the biggest spot, the best course with my parents there in front of all those people, I couldn’t ask for a better night. That’s one that I will always remember.”

Flipping the switch

Lindsey Vonn, 34, was making her 25th FIS Alpine World Ski Championships start on Sunday, and she was “the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” she said in a conversation with fellow legend Tina Maze. So Johnson, a worlds rookie in her sport, understandably was over-awed by the stage initially during Friday’s moguls competition.

Johnson DNF’d in her first qualifying run but laid down a run during her second attempt good enough to advance to Friday night’s finals. Though she didn’t place as well as she had wanted — 12th — during the finals, Johnson got more comfortable with the limelight and the course for Saturday.

“I flipped a switch with my approach to finals. It was a fresh start,” Johnson said of Friday’s moguls. “I went really big on my second jump and it caught me, but I was pleased I left it all out there. It left me motivated for duals. I know I could carry the momentum into the next day.”

That she did. She also was adjusting to the course. Already a beast at 254 meters with a 28-degree pitch, the course’s moguls were getting bigger and bigger with the snow Deer Valley received during the week and throughout Saturday night’s competition.

In a 32-woman bracket, Johnson advanced against Sweden’s Josefina Werson, Australia’s Taylah O’Neill and scored the upset in the quarterfinals against No. 3 Jakara Anthony — Johnson was ranked No. 6.

Sharing a chair

That set up an all-American semifinal with Kauf. The two competitors and best friends actually rode up on the same chair before their dual.

“I remember telling her that we both just wanted to have good fun and put on a good show,” Johnson said. “I’m really glad I got to dual her. She pushes me to be the best skier and person I am today.”

Kauf edged Johnson, 79.97-73.56, which sent Johnson to the small final, aka the bronze-medal race, against Galysheva, who had won the world title in moguls on Friday night. What’s more, as the field moves through the bracket, the races come more quickly.

“It was crazy,” Johnson said. “There were hundreds of people watching, the crowd is roaring. It’s easy to get distracted. I tried to embrace the idea of skiing one run at a time and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

And that strategy delivered a worlds bronze medal.

Johnson is spending a few more days in Utah before heading to Tazawako, Japan, ironically where she won her first World Cup, for competitions Feb. 23-24. She’s going early because she wants to get in some powder skiing beforehand.

“I would say that I just want to keep this momentum going and keep working on my jumps,” she said. “My jumps are the weakest part. I want to work on fine tuning my air takeoffs and continue to work on what I accomplished.”