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After suffering a broken neck last year, 2008 X Games Speed and Style gold medalist Kevin Johnson remounted his bike his bike less then two months before X Games 16. While Johnson's known more for his racing skills than his FMX abilities, his priorities have shifted as he's starting to put more attention on FMX than ever before. Now living in Houston, Tex. and practicing at Chuck Carothers' riding compound "Camp Chuck," Johnson is on a mission to add a second X Games gold to his mantle in 2011.
|Johnson leads Jeremy Stenberg on his way to Speed and Style gold in 2008.|
So Kevin, when did you first start racing in the professional ranks?
I turned pro in 2001, racing for Motoworld Yamaha. I did all the AMA Supercross and Outdoor Nationals that year.
When did you get into FMX?
I actually started doing freestyle in the late nineties, kind of on accident. I went to an Arenacross in Oklahoma, and Kenny Bartram was there racing too. They had a little jump-off contest and I could do a heelclicker and a nac nac, so I entered. I ended up getting second behind Kenny who was doing cliffhangers and lazyboys. So, the next night I spent the entire practice session hitting the big triple trying to learn the same tricks he was doing. My dad was pretty mad at me because I wasn't riding laps and focusing on racing, but I actually learned both of those tricks and almost beat Kenny that night. After that I got into freestyle a little, but then my focus went back to racing. Now I'm back to being about 50/50 with both.
|Learning the backflip only one month before X Games 16, Johnson came into Speed and Style with his guns blazing. After a few mistakes, he ended up in fifth place.|
Being that you're a racer with FMX tricks, what was your reaction when you first heard about X Games' new creation, Speed and Style?
When Speed and Style first came out, it was for the Moto X World Championships that ESPN had in San Diego. I honestly didn't know how it would work. My vision in my mind was just a ramp on a track with 10 guys going for it, and that kind of seemed chaotic to me. Then when I saw the track and the layout I got a little more excited.
I went into the 2008 X Games with only a handful of descent-sized tricks, a big ball of nerves, and I wasn't really prepared. I spent months before the event trying to learn the backflip, but I crashed the couple times I finally went for it. That day, everything fell in place the way it needed to for me to win gold. It was crazy the way it all came together. I don't really know why or how, but it was an awesome day!
For some reason or another, X Games took Speed and Style out of the line up in 2009, but they brought it back in a big way this year. What did you think of the track inside the Staples Center?
I was actually bummed the event didn't happen in 2009, but it gave me an opportunity to go to Canada and race the Canadian Nationals, which were a lot of fun. So when 2010 came along, the event was back and I was excited to get the invite. I really liked the course inside of the Staples Center. I think having the ramps on the track where everybody had to hit it every lap, and sometimes side-by-side when battling, was great. The carpet turns bummed me out a little bit, but to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Everybody had to ride the same course, so I think it was a cool concept being inside the Staples Center. I kind of specialize in Arenacross so it suited me well.
You ended up learning the backflip only one month before the event and throwing it down in the race. How nerve-racking was that?
Yeah, I trained with you in Texas to learn the flip, which was a pretty big milestone for me. I was a basket case, but it was one of those mental challenges that when you get over it, it's so rewarding. I think I am the only guy actively racing Supercross and Arenacross that flip's, so it's kind of cool.
This year you ended up in fifth. Do you plan on coming back next year with more big tricks in your bag? I think with some good flip tricks and your current speed you could bring home another gold.
I definitely plan on coming back if they have Speed and Style next year. I'm going to keep training, show up with some good flip tricks, and take home another gold medal. I don't want anything but the win.
Would you ever consider an FMX-only career?
I don't want to solely focus on freestyle because to be honest, I love racing too much. I have just as much, if not more, fun hammering out a 30-minute moto on a rough and rutted track than I do hitting ramps. I enjoy the both of them a lot, but I don't see myself pursuing one over the other. You know, I've got the flip dialed and I'm just starting to get into flip tricks, but some of the things guys are doing now is just plain crazy.