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Johnstone targets Sochi 360

27 June 2013

SNOWBOARD: From rock bottom to world-beater; that is the goal for snowboarder Nathan Johnstone as he eyes the Olympic berth that should have been.

Injured just four weeks out from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, “Nate”, the World Number Two Halfpipe rider at the time, had to trade his tilt at the Vancouver podium for a stint in surgery after breaking his left ankle in an airbag training session.

“It was a big disappointment for me back then, but I learnt a lot from it and it gave me a lot of motivation and drive for the following season and it really put me in a good place,” Johnstone said.

Unperturbed, the then 19-year-old Sydneysider showed his raw potential and determination by bouncing back to win the World Championship crown just twelve months later. He also pocketed the 2011 FIS World Cup Crystal Globe for topping the Halfpipe Season standings and the overall Freestyle Crystal Globe.

“I had a great 2011 season and I'm still continuing that roll on to now. Just hopefully I'll stay fit and healthy for Russia and get a good result there," said Johnstone ahead of the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Snowboard Halfpipe is an event that has been friendly to Australia at the Olympics, with Torah Bright winning the women’s event in 2010.

To reach that level of success in February 2014, one of the major hurdles 23-year-old Johnstone needs to overcome is “The Flying Tomato”- back-to-back Olympic Halfpipe Champion Shaun White (USA). And Johnstone is going about it in all the rights ways, just returning from a training block with White’s coach in America.

“I was given a fantastic opportunity to go over to Mammoth Mountain and train with Bud Keene who is Shaun White’s Coach. He runs what is called a ‘progression camp’ and it was a great chance to break up my normal training routine and train alongside some really strong competitors like Japanese Olympian Ryo Aono.”

In a sport where athletes are judged on their routine of acrobatic jumps, flips, twists and other manoeuvres in a Halfpipe, Johnstone is finessing his suite of tricks. 

“Shaun White is such a strong competitor and is very consistent with his runs. That is something that I definitely try to emulate in my snowboarding.

“You have to be out there every day practicing and perfecting tricks so come competition day, depending on whatever the weather or the pipe throws at you, you can land that run.”

Whimsical weather conditions are an occupational hazard for snowboarders. And the 2014 Olympic venue in the mountains 80 kilometres outside of Sochi Russia, which the Australians visited in February, throws up its own intricacies.

“I learnt from the Test Event that the weather can be very unpredictable,” Johnstone admitted.

“They had minimal snow when I was there and it was super warm, which made trying to hold speed in the pipe as well and spinning the tricks around quickly quite a challenge.   

Ever the optimist, Johnstone, who placed eighth at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park for the Test Event, described the competition as “a great test run for me.” 

“It has definitely changed the way that I am training.  When the Olympics come around, if the weather is undesirable, I want to make sure that I am in a position where I have a strong advantage over everyone else. This means taking advantage of those bad weather days in training and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.”

Part of that training comes off the snow, with strength and fitness crucial components in bolstering performance and preventing injuries.  Gym sessions, running sand dunes and surfing are all part of a package that has made 173cm tall, 65kg Johnstone a true Olympic contender.

“I feel very strong and in the best physical shape I have ever been in,” the smiling snowboarder says.

“I know my competitors will be stepping it up big time leading into the Olympics. So my number one priority is staying focused on physically pushing myself to be in the best shape of my life, so that it’s not going to be an issue come the Olympics.”

Well before arriving in Russia, Johnstone wants to be firing. He will launch back into serious competition at the opening World Cup of the 2013/14 season in New Zealand this August.

“Having a strong season before Sochi is really important for me. I want to make sure that I set myself up in a strong and positive state of mind leading into the event, which is invaluable,” Johnstone notes, adding that he spends a large part of his routines hanging 20 foot above the pipe.

“The hard work starts now in making sure all my tricks are ready to go, so by the start of the season everything is very natural and there’s no pressure to learn new tricks. It will mean I can just snowboard and have fun and that’s always when I get my best results.”

According to coach, Ben Alexander, Johnstone’s strong performances have been richly deserved, particularly given the heartbreak of Vancouver.

“He worked extremely hard on his recovery and was very determined to make up for his missed opportunity in 2010,” said Alexander, noting Johnstone drew inspiration from Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson who both recovered from serious injuries to become World Champions.

“Nathan works as hard, if not harder than anyone else in snowboarding. He is incredibly strong, yet smooth and stylish which is unique. It is a credit to the staff he works with and his vision of how he wants to snowboard.”

Alexander describes the snowboarder-come-surfer from Mona Vale as a popular rider on any tour.

“Nathan is one of the most down to earth and friendly athletes in snowboarding. He is admired by his peers for his natural ability, unique style and dedication to the sport. His passion for snowboarding is contagious which often brings out the best in others riding with him.”

Nearing his physical peak, Johnstone is a professional snowboarder who surfs for training, often with fellow World Champions and NSW Institute of Sport athletes Alex “Chumpy” Pullin and Holly Crawford by his side. Can it be as fantastic as it sounds? 

“It definitely is pretty awesome! Being able to travel around the world experiencing all these amazing countries whilst snowboarding at some of the best resorts in the world is a dream come true. I never would have thought I would be doing what I’m doing now if you had told me 10 years ago.”

“I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about the things I have achieved and the places I have been lucky enough to see, I know I have one of the best jobs in the world!”

When the snow falls on Sochi in February 2014, Johnstone will be among many Australian medal contenders in snowboard events, with Bright, Crawford and Pullin also leading the way.

“Nathan has proven that he can compete for the podium and win amongst the best in the world,” Alexander said.

“He's got some great new tricks in his run and is looking forward to his Olympic debut. We still have some time before we all get there and he's feeling more confident each day.

“One thing is for sure; he is going to give it his best shot.”

Johnstone has learnt so much from the highs and lows of the past and now channels all of his unstoppable energy on the future and Sochi 2014.

Keep following the journey to Sochi at Olympics.com.au

Andrew Reid
Olympics.com.au
@AUSOlympicTeam