Johnson brings venom; takes fourth in Sweden
Tess changing it up
Meet the backflip venom grab.
It’s Vail’s Tess Johnson’s latest obsession as she continues to work her way up the ranks of World Cup moguls skiing with the FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships in February being held somewhere — we’ll address that later — and the 2022 Olympics in Beijing approaching.
Johnson, 20, unveiled the trick during the opening World Cup events of the season in Ruka, Finland, and Idre Fjall, Sweden. The 2018 Olympian took 10th in Ruka and ninth in Idre Fjall in individual moguls.
Those are solid results, but things finally started to click on Sunday — the last day of an epic six-week trip — in Sweden as Johnson jumped up to fourth place. This is where the backlflip venom grab comes into play. This jump, which comes on the second air of Johnson’s routine, is based on the backflip iron cross she performed in previous years.
For the iron cross, Johnson would go off the jump and invert herself and make a cross of her skis while upside down. In the backflip venom grab, Johnson grabs the inside of the front tips of her skis while they are crossed.
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Note to self: It is critical to for your hands to let go of the flats and uncross one’s skis before landing.
“It’s kind of a scary trick,” Johnson said. “You’re literally grabbing your skis and pulling them even more crossed. I’ve had a few landings where I barely have gotten my skis uncrossed.”
This is an uncommon move for women’s moguls, comes with a high degree of difficulty and a higher ceiling for points. The iron cross has a 0.81 degree of difficulty, while the venom move is 0.93. Yes, this is inside baseball but the difference is significant.
“I haven’t put the whole package together,” Johnson said. “In Ruka, I was missing the speed. In Idre Fjall, I missed the grab in singles. When I do (nail it) and can truly be consistent, this could elevate my potential and my ability for success.”
The road to the venom grab started during summer water-ramp training with her coach Riley Campbell. The new jump went well when Johnson and company went to Mount Hood, Oregon, in July.
As with everything else sporting, the World Cup moguls season is off to a jumbled start. When the U.S. Freestyle Team went to Europe, it quarantined in Finland.
Team bonding isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when it comes to American moguls. It’s a deep team with Kauf, Johnson, Kai Owens and Hannah Soar among others. Kauf and Johnson are fast friends and Owens is also from Eagle County, so it’s a small world.
If you can compete with them in camp, you’re in good shape to hold your own against the best in in the world, including France’s Perrine Laffont, who has won all three moguls comps this season.
The American team was in Scandinavia for six weeks. Six COVID-19 tests — all good — and a lot of driving later, Johnson and company made it to Sweden. And on the last day of a long trip — Sunday — Johnson executed the venom grab as well as she has in competition.
Athletes can get a maximum of 20 points for their two jumps in an event. The average jumping score for the women last season was 12 points, with Johnson averaging 11 per event and Laffont at 15. On Sunday, Johnson boosted her jumping to 14 points.
Again, it may not seem like much, but 3 points are very important when the margin of error among the sport’s elite is so thin. Perrine defeated Johnson in Sunday’s semifinals, 82.62-81.46.
Johnson’s hope is that has she continues to hone the backflip venom grab, executing the technical aspects of the jump and, yes, getting those skis properly uncrossed for landing, so that the trick will produce big scores come the resumption of the World Cup, the world champs in February and the Beijing Olympics in 2022.
While she will break a little for the holidays, a graduate of the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy in 2018, Johnson is taking classes on line via the Harvard Extension School with an eye, at least right now, toward a psychology degree.
The good news is she has a ton of time. Because of COVID-19, the next World Cup isn’t until February in Deer Valley, Utah, followed by Calgary, Alberta. Not only is the World Cup struggling to set up events during the pandemic, but worlds have already been postponed from Zhangjiakou, China, because the 14-day quarantine required by the host country interferes with the rest of the season’s schedule.
There are rumors of worlds moving to Deer Valley or Calgary which would shuffle the already shuffled schedule. Wherever or whenever worlds are, Johnson wants to be there. She took a bronze medal in dual moguls at the biennial event in 2019 in Deer Valley.
“I would love for worlds to happen anywhere,” Johnson said. “They were so much fun two years ago. It’s always an honor to go to world championships or the Olympics because they happen so infrequently.”
While Johnson is ranked No. 3 among the American women in World Cup points — four qualify from each country for worlds — she is taking nothing for granted.
“The competitor in me would love to compete tomorrow,” Johnson said after her breakthrough in Sweden on Sunday. “But I still have a lot of work to do do on the new air package. I need to work on my speed and consistency. I still have a lot of work to be done.”