In 2006, Anders Johnson made his Olympic debut at the age of 16, becoming the youngest U.S. Olympic ski jumper in history and finishing 14th in the team competition. In 2010, the 20-year-old targets his second Olympic appearance in Vancouver.
Is it true that you were three years old when you got started in ski jumping?
Yes, I was three. My dad used to be a long time coach and athlete of skiing jumping, and he took my sister and I up there, and all the coaches kind of decided that age three you're too young to be hucking yourself off some ski jumps, but I kind like any younger brother, I followed my sister up and went without anyone noticing. Afterwards there were like, "Oh well, maybe he's not too young, he can do it."
How big was the jump?
Nothing bigger than at your local ski resort. Just like a small little jump you can find anywhere in the woods
So you were already skiing then?
I think I started skiing right after my second birthday. I would go ahead and say that I've been skiing since I could walk.
When do you reach the large hill?
It is different for everyone, it is a skill-based type thing. It's a progression system, so your coach will never send you up unless you're ready. Me personally, I jumped a large hill for the first time when I was 10. That is pretty young for most people I think.
You weren't scared?
Oh no, I was terrified. Your first jump on any new hill, you're scared but you get real used to it.
Did you have a favorite ski jumper growing up since you were kind of surrounded by the scene?
My favorite jumper wasJanne Ahonen [of Finland]. He was just so good at such a young age and then it was crazy when you finally get on the scene and you're competing against them. Its like you really can't have a favorite ski jumper anymore because you're competing against them. He retired last year and he's on a comeback right now. He's the one athlete that I think has won everything so many times with the exception of an individual Olympic medal. You could sit here and have your whole binder filled with his stats. I think he has been 4th place more times than anyone else and so when retired last year it was sort of a big thing because he broke down in tears. He's like, "I can't do it anymore," and then he took a year break and the Finnish team was kind of on a couple of years where they weren't doing so well and this year... he was like, "I want in," so he's back.
Let's talk briefly about Torino. You were sixteen at the time of the Games and one of the younger competitors.
Yeah, I think I was something like the second-youngest skiing athlete from the U.S. to go to the Olympics.
What was that like to be the kid? Did people give you a hard time?
No, I mean everyone was kind of cool. A lot of people kind of looked at me like, "Really, how old are you?" It was fun, it was a really fun experience. Not many people get to experience that, so I took advantage of it. I didn't compete as much as I would like. I had a pretty hard fall the week before and so I was coming off an injury right into the Olympics.
It seems like a lot of American winter athletes have skied, snowboarded and skated, but there's far less experience with ski jumping.
And that's something that is kind of funny that a lot of people don't understand is that ski jumping is probably one of the most popular sports in Europe.
Can you elaborate on that popularity?
Like in Germany, it's the equivalent to basketball in the U.S. In Europe as a whole, it is the equivalent of golf. It's just a huge sport. Televised, every event, every jump, massive crowds, I mean, at some competitions in Europe you get upwards of 100,000 people standing out in the cold, watching and cheering. Just so ecstatic about watching ski jumping. I mean in Norway, their sports national pastime, for us, its baseball, but Norway it's Nordic sports. It's cross-country skiing, its ski jumping, it's combined, it's the works.
Compiled by Matt Stroup, NBCOlympics.com