Women Can't Jump

This world-class ski jumper can't compete in Turin—but her little brother can

Alissa Johnson has been ski jumping since she was five years old. Now 18, she's ranked ninth in the world at launching her body off 90- and 120-meter hills.

And she'd likely be warming up this week for the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, except that ski jumping is the one Olympic sport that excludes women athletes. Alissa will be traveling to Turin, but the closest she'll get to the ski jumps is the spectator seats: She'll be watching her younger brother, Anders Johnson, ranked in the mid 100's, try to jump for the gold.

I'm catching you right after practice—how much of your life is consumed by ski jumping right now? Ski jumping is number one in my life, but simply because it's not an Olympic sport, I have to force myself to give other things some priority. I work part time at a barbeque place in Park City. But I train six days per week, 11 months per year. I'm taking off school this semester for competitions-there are so many. Last year I went to Europe four times and Japan once. And that flight to Japan is long.

Would you have a shot, if the Olympics had ski jumping for women? Yeah, there would be a chance. I think the U.S. would win the team event, no problem. And I'd at least have a chance at medaling. But it's not an option, so I try to keep my mind off it.

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Johnson, one of the world's best jumpers, is relegated to the bleachers for now.
photo: Scott Sine/Park Register

And meanwhile your brother is going to Turin? Yeah, I'm flying to meet my family there. I'm really excited, and excited for him. . . . Of course my family wishes we were both competing.

Does your brother have any shot at medaling? No, there isn't a chance [laughs].

Would you have a shot, if the Olympics had ski jumping for women? Yeah, there would be a chance. I think the U.S. would win the team event, no problem. And I'd at least have a chance at medaling. But it's not an option, so I try to keep my mind off it.

Didn't you grow up training with your brother? I was actually in a higher group than him until he was 10 or so. We would jump on the same hills and train together. Recently, we've had the same coaches, and I train with him every day.

What's he like? My brother and I are completely different in some ways. He's about a foot and a half taller than me and everyone else in my family. He's goofy. For a long time he was a big kid in a little kid's body, and now it's reverse. He's goofy and he's 16 and is going to the Olympics. It's insane.

When did you realize you didn't have the same chance to be in the Olympics? I never looked up to any women as role models—they were all men. Until I hit puberty, at like 13 or 14, I didn't realize that I was one of the only girls who did this. All of a sudden the guys were going off and competing to see who was the best in the world, but we simply didn't have that.

So, you're a pioneer of sorts? I guess, but if you look at how much our field has changed and grown in recent years, with more women jumper and stronger jumpers, we should alreadyhave those opportunities.

Why go through all the travel and training and stress if there's no gold to strive for? It's such an exciting feeling—a unique feeling, because we were built to stay on the ground. You are being suspended. When you have a better jump than your last jump, you land and you just want to do it again.

What about the possibility for women's jumping to be in the 2010 games? Yeah, but right now—tonight—all of the boys are packing for Torino. The ones we have grown up with, and trained with all our lives, they're all like brothers to me and they're getting on a plane tomorrow to go to the Olympics and I'm not. That's hard.

 
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