NewsSki Jumping

When Opportunity Arose In Gangwon, Ski Jumper Josie Johnson Seized It For Silver

by Bob Reinert

Josie Johnson jumps during the women's individiual norma hill finals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 20, 2024. (Photo by OIS/Simon Bruty)

When Josie Johnson stood at the top of the ski jumping hill Saturday at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024, she was more than prepared for the conditions that day, which included high winds and icy precipitation.

“Wind does not usually scare me as much because I grew up with my club coach, who would flag you and had you go in all types of wind,” Johnson recalled. “He sent me in some crazy wind. But I appreciate it because now I can jump in almost any kind of wind.”

Johnson, a 17-year-old from Park City, Utah, responded by cutting through the winds and ice pellets to claim the silver medal in the women’s HS109 event, the first podium appearance by an American at this year’s Games. She posted jumps of 100 meters and 107 meters, the latter a personal best.

“It was actually a really big surprise,” said Johnson, who had done nothing like that in the Gangwon training runs. “I was finishing top 15, top 10, somewhere in there. It was pretty unexpected.

“When I was sitting at the top (of the hill), I was very surprised that our competition was still going because the winds were so crazy. I think it was our worst condition day out of all the days.”

Anders Johnson, ski jumping and Nordic combined sport director for U.S. Ski & Snowboard, said he was proud her performance.

“What Josie just did was incredible and shows just how bright the future is for ski jumping in the United States,” he said. “Those were the best two jumps she’s had all season, and to do it in an Olympic event is simply amazing.”

Her cell phone had spotty coverage in the mountains of northeast South Korea, but when Johnson finally connected to a friend’s hot spot after the event, she saw 33 unopened messages.

“It was quite overwhelming, the texts that I got,” Johnson said.

Two days after winning the silver medal, Johnson was still trying to absorb her breakthrough performance.

“My goals are still pretty intense,” she said. “But this is just like a little win on the way to the top, I guess. The classic (goal is) just going to the Olympics, (and) hopefully, one day, winning the overall (Crystal Globe trophy given to the world cup champion), which would be super cool.”

(L-R) Josie Johnson, Taja Bodlag (Slovakia) and Ingvild Synnoeve Midtskogen (Norway) celebrate on the podium following the women's individual normal hill finals at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024 on Jan. 20, 2024. (Photo by OIS/Simon Bruty)

For now, Johnson will be content with savoring the Gangwon experience. The quadrennial Youth Olympic Games, for athletes ages 15 to 18, are designed to mimic much of the traditional Olympic experience, which in this year’s edition means utilizing several venues from the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, including that for ski jumping.

“It was a super cool venue,” she said. “All of the officials and everyone working there, and the volunteers were so nice.”

Johnson credited a partnership that began in 2022 between the U.S. and Norway ski jumping programs with giving the Americans a boost. In fact, she shared the podium with Norwegian Ingvild Midtskogen, who took the bronze medal.

“I don’t think that would have happened without Norway because they have helped us with so much stuff, like our technique and all of the basic things that we really needed,” Johnson said. “We’ve been able to qualify in the majority of the world cups that we go to. The men have been getting really good results, and some of our women.

“Everyone’s just slowly creeping up, and it’s amazing to see. It’s basically just like going to school for jumping. Also, we’ve just made a ton of friends. It’s been so fun. I’m endlessly grateful for it.”

That partnership helped when U.S. coach Karl Denney had to fly home suddenly during the Games.

“He had a family emergency,” Johnson said. “I kind of knew what I needed to do. So, it all worked out.”

Johnson has come a long way since strapping on skis for the first time at age 2 and later discovered ski jumping.

“We had this after-school program that kind of took kids on Fridays, and every week they would try a different sport,” said Johson, who tried ski jumping first. “I just kind of fell in love with it that first day, and then I didn’t actually rotate throughout any of the other sports. I just really liked it.”

An active child, Johnson suffered more than her share of injuries growing up, though none of them on the ski jumping hill.

“I was kind of the all-in kind of a kid,” Johnson said. “So, I’ve broken 14 bones, not including fingers or toes.”

Johnson emerged intact from Gangwon, however, ready for the next chapter in a promising ski jumping career.