Edwards local Tess Johnson confirmed for Olympics
EDWARDS — Local Tess Johnson received confirmation Monday, Jan. 22, that she has earned a spot on the Olympic team.
Johnson, 17, is a mogul skier who has been in a tight contest this season to be one of four athletes named to the team.
“I always believed that I could (make the team),” Johnson said Monday. “But, to be honest, it’s one of those things that you never think is going to happen until it does … I don’t have words to describe the feeling.”
Among the first calls Johnson made when she heard the news was to her soccer coach, Vail native Sylvan Ellefson, who has also been through the test of trying to make it to the Olympics. Four years ago, Ellefson won nationals and came painfully close to making it to the Olympics, but fell just shy of being named to the Nordic team.
“It’s been kind of cool living vicariously through her right now,” Ellefson said.
Thankfully, Ellefson said, this time around he didn’t have to relive the sting of the near miss.
“I remember when she told me that she was a moguls skier and she was trying to make the U.S. Ski Team,” Ellefson said. “It’s been fun watching her go from a kid trying to make the U.S. Ski Team, to a kid on the U.S. Ski Team trying to make the Olympics, to making the Olympics.”
Next in that progression, Johnson will move into her new role as an Olympian trying to make the podium.
And she has a good shot at it, too.
In the final World Cup before the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Johnson finished in a career-best fourth place.
“Honestly, her getting a fourth place is way better than any other place,” Ellefson said. “I’ve had enough fourth places in my life that have really made me want to go out and get it a little more. It’s definitely going to inspire her going into the next few races.”
Ellefson said much of Johnson’s success — in skiing and soccer — is a result of her mental fortitude.
“The strength of her psychology is almost like no athlete I’ve ever seen,” Ellefson said.
It’s a big statement coming from a cross-country racer.
“She overcomes a lot in the face of adversity,” he added.
Johnson is a captain on her soccer team, where Ellefson said she’s well liked because she’s humble and kind. The team won the state championship in 2015 and 2016, and this year Johnson says she definitely plans on trying to obtain another state title with the team.
In the mean time, though, Johnson also has high school to finish up. She is a senior at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy.
“It’s possible that I won’t be coming home until after March, after U.S. Nationals, so until then I’m going to try to do as much school as I can, on the road, which I know won’t be easy, as it never has been,” Johnson said. “But I’m kind of just trying to focus on the present as much as I can.”
That zen-like attitude is wisdom that was passed on to Johnson from Ellefson, based on his own experiences four years ago.
“I was happy I was able to share with her a little bit of what I went through before her last competition,” Ellefson said. “Getting to travel the world, be with friends, all while skiing competitively. For me, that was something I didn’t get to reflect on until after I found out I didn’t make it to the Olympics.”
Johnson said in addition to Ellefson, her parents — locals TJ and Carol Johnson — as well as her coaches, Riley Campbell and John Dowling from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, are the first people that come to mind when she reflects on how she got to this point.
“But all of my coaches, all of my teammates, and everyone in the entire Vail Valley has been so encouraging and supportive, I’m so grateful,” Johnson said.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.