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The man to beat in 2021: Meet Slopestyle star Emil Johansson
The Swedish Slopestyle rider has taken the bike world by storm with his technical riding style and incredible comeback story.
With his technical and smooth riding style, Swedish Slopestyle rider Emil Johanssonhas skyrocketed to the top of the Slopestyle podium in just 5 years. Despite his young age, he has already made a huge mark on the scene and is currently one of the best Slopestyle riders in the world.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2016, Johansson has managed to become the youngest ever FMB World Champion in 2017, win the prestigious Red Bull Joyride in 2019, compete in the insane freeride event Red Bull Rampage as well as take two Crankworx Slopestyle wins in Rotorua and Innsbruck in 2020. Coming into the 2021 season, Johansson is the man to beat.
But Johansson’s career is one of nightmares and fairytales all mixed in one. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, at one point it wasn’t clear if Johansson could ever return to the competition scene, let alone ride again. Johansson’s rise to the top has been anything but easy.
EMIL’S MANY STRENGTHS
MTB Slopestyle is a genre that demands not only world-class bike and aerial acrobatic skills, but also a huge amount of mental strength. The courses consist of huge features like jumps, boner logs, drops and fishtails. The competitors have to impress the judges with a trick repertoire that is both technical, diverse and flowy whilst dealing with outside factors like wind, rain and a huge media coverage.
Johansson seems to be able to deal with all of the above having won every Crankworx Slopestyle competition since Red Bull Joyride in 2019. At only 21-years old, he has become the rider to beat winning with such high scores that it has many of the other competitors scratching their heads wondering how to beat him. “When Emil is here, we’re all competing for second place”, Max Fredriksson, fellow Swede and Slopestyle rider said during Crankworx Innsbruck in 2020.
When Emil is here, we’re all competing for second place.
Despite being on top, Johansson doesn’t take any of it for granted. He is always looking for ways to improve his runs and scores, even when winning. He is structured, has a clear goal and works hard for it.
“If you aren’t prepared for a competition that is nobody’s fault but your own”, the tall Swede explains. “That’s the thing with individual sports, you’ve got to wear the load yourself and be able to live up to your own expectations. Cause in the end, I am competing against myself”.
He isn’t just extremely talented on the bike, but Johansson also seems to be extremely mentally strong. The young rider has had to deal with more pressure and media attention than most but never seems to get distracted or lose his focus. How he does it? “I just shut it out and focus on the task in front of me instead”.
THE BREAKOUT SEASON
The reason behind all the media attention is Johansson’s huge and emotional comeback story.
It all started in 2016 with the then 17-year old Johansson stumbling onto the scene by getting a wildcard entry to the biggest contest of the year, Red Bull Joyride. There he managed to catch everyone’s attention by coming in 4th. The following season, Johansson cemented his role on the scene taking home the overall title and becoming the youngest ever FMB World Champion after placing 3rd at Crankworx in Rotorua, 2nd in Innsbruck and 2nd at Red Bull Joyride in Whistler.
Few knew that Johansson was secretly fighting an increasingly bad backache and crumbling immune system.
SPIRALLING INTO A NIGHTMARE
While it looked like the 18-year old had the world at his feet, few knew that Johansson was secretly fighting an increasingly bad backache and crumbling immune system. It would eventually get so bad that it completely turned the up-and-coming rider’s world upside down. After winning the tour in the autumn of 2017, Johansson’s condition got so bad that he could barely get out of bed and he didn’t know if he could ever return to the world of competitions. The worst thing was, no one could figure out what was wrong with him.
Watch Emil's comeback story in the documentary "Every Mystery I've Lived":
EMIL – Every Mystery I’ve Lived
It would take several months and many international appointments with some of the best doctors in their field to figure out that Johansson was actually fighting two autoimmune diseases that were causing his body to attack itself: Epstein–Barr virus and Hashimoto's disease as well as suffering from a congenital 6th lumbar vertebrae defect, which he’d been born with.
During times I didn’t think I’d ever be able to ride a bike again, and now I’m here.
2018 was a blur of pain, doctors and barely any time on the bike. Johansson was on the road to recovery, but it was long with plenty of setbacks and the big question still remained: would he ever be able to return to the competition limelight? Despite all the unknowns and little to no time on the bike, Johansson showed up at Crankworx Whistler in August 2018 to compete at Red Bull Joyride. He ended up 4th.
“I’m speechless, it’s been such a tough year. During times I didn’t think I’d ever be able to ride a bike again, and now I’m here”, a teared-up Johansson said in the finish area after blowing everyone away with a run that showed no sign of the stress he’d been under for the past year.
THE BIG COMEBACK
However, Johansson was still far from being back to full strength and the tough road to recovery continued. It would take 2 years for Johansson to fully comeback to the competition scene. When he finally did, he did it with a bang taking 2nd place at Crankworx Innsbruck in June 2019. His second competition in 2 years.
The following months he went on to win the most prestigious Slopestyle event of the year Red Bull Joyride and gaining a last-minute wildcard entry to the biggest MTB competition of the year, Red Bull Rampage. A complete rookie in the world of Freeride, Johansson still managed to build and ride a line in the Utah desert that impressed riders and judges alike, who called it: “a rookie run for the history books”.
Johansson kept his momentum going into 2020 where he took the win at the first competition of the year at Crankworx Rotorua. Once again, he put down a run “for the history books”, with the commentators claiming that it could just be “the best Slopestyle run ever done”. Finishing of his perfect season, Johansson also took the win at Crankworx Innsbruck later that season.
And whilst still having to fight his auto-immune disease every day, the talented rider continues to impress everyone with his stylish riding and huge trick repertoire.
MAKING WAVES WITH HIS RIDING STYLE
Because it’s not just Johansson’s comeback story that attracts media attention. His extremely technical riding creates waves by itself. Fitting more tricks than seemingly possible into a jump, Johanssons is famous for laying down the most technical tricks making it look like the easiest thing in the world.
When Martin Söderström made it internationally, I decided to buy my first bike.
His style is one that many have come to associate with riders from Sweden, and especially Martin Söderström, who’s inspired a whole generation of riders, including Johansson. “When Martin made it internationally, I decided to buy my first bike”, Emil says. “His success definitely influenced me and made me believe anything is possible”.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Born in Trollhättan, Sweden in 1999, Johansson grew up playing sports like handball and hockey like most kids, but also took every chance he could to sneak of the local dirt jumps. Increasingly obsessed with bikes, Johansson’s dad found an indoor BMX hall with a foam pit – Camp Active Lidköping - in a nearby city where took his son to have a go. From then on, Johansson was hooked.
“I stopped playing handball and hockey and convinced my dad that it was biking that I wanted to do”. When the hall closed down in 2014, Johansson decided moved from Trollhättan to Falun to attend Hagströmska Cykelgymnasium: a high school that specialises in MTB and Slopestyle. An easy choice for the bike-obsessed teenager: “When the indoor hall closed down I realised I had nowhere to develop my skills at any longer, it made the choice to move an easy one”.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Already after his first semester at the school, the young Slopestyle addict was eager to try his wings outside of Sweden. He tried pre-qualifying for some of the big events in Europe, but it was hard and kept getting declined. Finally, in early 2016 he managed to get invited to the Austrian event 26TRIX. Despite being his first International competition, he ended up in 5th, landing him a wildcard entry to the diamond event Swatch Prime Line a couple of months later. There he took another 5th place and got another wildcard entry to the biggest Slopestyle event of the year, Red Bull Joyride. The rest is history.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Since first stepping onto the scene in 2016, Johansson’s skills have gone from strength to strength. His trick repertoire keeps getting bigger and better with each season and his goal-oriented mindset sees him overcome one hurdle after the next.
Coming into 2021, the Swedish rider will be the man to beat at the Crankworx Slopestyle events and it will be interesting to see if he can hold on to his winning streak with big names like Nicholi Rogatkin, David Godziek and Erik Fedko breathing down his neck. However, if there is one thing that Johansson’s career has shown it is that he doesn’t crumble under pressure and he knows how to take on a challenge.