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    Friday, February 20, 1998

    Olympics caught Ryan's fancy

    By BILL DAVIDSON -- Calgary Sun
      Ryan Johnson didn't realize his dream of standing on the podium with a medal around his neck, but the 23-year-old Calgary mogul skier brought home some warm and wonderful feelings about the Olympics.
     "I had no idea what to expect," said Johnson, who was greeted at the Calgary International Airport by a host of sign-carrying relatives yesterday.
     "It was a great ex-perience. It made me really feel like I was representing my na-tion, with all the support staff they have there, just everyone trying to help us.
     "I started to realize, too, that being at the Games is not only the culmination of the best sports in the world, it's the symbolism of everything from national relations to world peace.
     "It's a great thing."
     That doesn't mean Johnson is holding his breath in anticipation of 2002 and the Salt Lake Games.
     He may be there, but "I can't look that far ahead. I'll play it year-by-year."
     He was actually close to getting a medal at Nagano.
     Finishing fifth and in good position to seriously contend after the first day of the moguls, Johnson was hit by a flu bug.
     He felt just like he looked for the final, pale and sick.
     "The night between the competitions," he explained, "I got really sick -- high fever, sore throat and a really bad headache and dizziness. That's what worried me the most, I wasn't on balance.
     "I wanted to ski a little bit both days (between the first and second runs), but I wasn't able to. The day of the contest, I was well enough to ski. The day before, I couldn't have."
     With all the IOC rules surrounding drugs, "I didn't take anything. They did a strep throat test on me to see if that's what I had. If I did have that, which I didn't, they would have given me some antibiotics.
     "It was some kind of a virus. A lot of people got sick."
     He got better and spent the past few days enjoying the Olympics, taking in a couple of hockey games and the aerials.
     He saw Canada's dream team beat the U.S. and Kazakhstan.
     "Canada and U.S.A. was amazing," said Johnson. "There was such a huge ri-valry there -- Canadian flags everywhere and U.S. fans cheering so hard."
     He also met many of the hockey superstars in the athletes' village.
     "It was a bit of a historical thing having the NHL Dream Teams playing in the Olympics, but a lot of the athletes were a little bit angry that they were allowed to compete."
     Mogul skiers, for example, are not permitted in the pro ranks and still go to the Olympics. That's got to change.
     "But all the (NHL) guys were happy," said Johnson. "They were playing with a lot of heart because they were playing for their country, maybe even more than in the NHL."
     Johnson is only home for four days, then it's back to the World Cup grind in Europe.
     "If I can improve my results, I'll be able to go to the World Cup finals in Austria the second week in March," said Johnson, who needs to be in the top 16 and is currently in "the high 20s."
     Following the European trip, he'll return to Calgary for the Canadian finals at Fortress Mountain, March 20-22.
     "That's the last event of the year," he said, "and I'll really be happy to be home for that."