In front of a massive Saturday evening crowd, Emil Johansson stitched together an incredible run to capture an emotional victory at Red Bull Joyride, the highlight of Crankworx Whistler.
“Honestly, I can’t,” Johansson said of trying to put his feelings to words, his voice shaking as he fought back tears. “It’s been rough. If you had told me two years ago, when stuff was really rough, that this day was going to happen, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.”
The victory caps of the 20-year-old Swedish riders comeback story. Two years ago, Johansson was on the second step of the podium at the end of his break out slopestyle season. Just months later, it looked nearly impossible that he would ever make it back. Johansson was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that prevented him from riding, and threatened to cut short his promising career in its earliest stages.
This year, Johansson was finally healthy, and back in competition. He finished a razor-thin second to Brett Rheeder in Crankworx Innsbruck in June. The comeback was in full swing, but the top step of the podium was still calling.
On Saturday, Johansson made his return complete, taking the win on Slopestyle’s biggest stage.
“It’s a dream come true,” said the Swede of his Joyride victory. “and it just shows that all the hard work I put in paid off.”
Johansson was greeted at the finish by his family, and a ecstatic group of his fellow slopestyle competitors.
The rider probably most excited for him, was the Canadian standing on the podium beside him in second place.
“To see Emil be up in first place – one of my biggest competitors, and my friend – to see him up at the top of the podium so early in his career, that’s so awesome for him,” said Brett Rheeder.
The dominant Canadian, who won the first two rounds the Crankworx Slopestyle World Tour, was happy with his Joyride experience.
“I’m normally not stoked on coming in second but, man, I was going to do a run that was far less than what I did,” said Rheeder of his second run. After a fumble on his first run, he started the second run in 10th place. “It was five minutes before my run I changed my mind. At least 50% of the tricks I did on course I didn’t practice at all. So I was scared. I didn’t practice them and I didn’t know if they were going to work.”
Wind had hampered riders during training, leaving most with less time on course than they’d usually have.
“Five minutes before the run, I decided. Everyone was sending it and landing their runs and it stoked me. I was just like ‘I’m here, right now, and I’ve come all this way. The Triple Crown is there. It takes a year to get, and I’ve already been in this position. If there’s any time to just buck up and try to get a good run, it’s right now.’ And I just went for it.”
Rheeder nailed his second run, bringing the 30, 000-strong crowd in Whistler roaring to its feet. With a score of 94.5, the Canadian was just shy of first. But second, along with his to prior wins, was enough to earn Rheeder the overall Crankworx Slopestyle World Championships title, ahead of Tomas Lemoine and Torquato Testa.
Johansson’s win denies Rheeder the Crankworx Triple Crown of Slopestyle for another year, but the World Championship win, and the Swedes’ return to the sport, surely soften that blow for the Canadian.