Johnson eyeing Oly berth

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Mark Johnson has headed down to Denver on a Rocky Mountain high.

Johnson, a two-time Canadian police curling champion and runner-up to Kevin Martin in the 2006 provincial, is skipping a team at the U.S. Nationals, starting tonight.

Not only does he have a shot at representing the U.S. at this year's worlds in Moncton, but it's possible he'll represent the U.S. at next year's Olympics in Vancouver.

When his rink upended multiple U.S. champion Jason Larway a month ago at the West Regional, Johnson gave notice that his improbable dream could have a happy ending.

He heads into the event skipping the No. 3 seed.

"It's a very amazing opportunity for an old guy like me ... a 50-year-old with a potential of going to the Olympic Games in the country I reside in," said Johnson.

"It's definitely exciting. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised that the teams themselves, who probably don't know me that well, ranked our team No. 3 out of the 10.

"I guess we've earned enough respect as a team to get a top ranking out of the other teams."

Johnson's brother, Wes, convinced him there was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to chase an Olympic berth and asked Johnson to skip his Seattle-based team.

Since he was born in Walla Walla, Wash., and holds dual citizenship, the seemingly-goofy idea was possible.

"I didn't think about the opportunity until I decided not to play that much," said Johnson.

"My brother asked me about it and it took me quite a while to come to the decision to play with my brother. Here we are going to the Olympic trials. Honestly, I hadn't thought about it that much."

Johnson 'retired' after the 2007-08 cashspiel season, blaming himself for a poor showing and sending the rest of the members of his top-16 team to find new situations.

"I guess I more or less re-committed myself to playing a lot and practising a lot and really focusing in on achieving my ultimate goals," said Johnson, who was fifth man for Brent MacDonald at the 1997 Canadian trials in Brandon and acted as fifth man for Martin at the 2006 Brier.

It's not a stretch to say Johnson will be the most knowledegable skip in Denver, and his own ability to compete at the highest level has never been in question.

"Any time you play against the Kevin Martins, the Randy Ferbeys, the Kevin Koes, the teams that we have to play locally here in Edmonton, you're going to learn and you're going to get better," said Johnson.

"So, obviously, I feel that I've become a better player because I've played out of Edmonton."

Although there's no doubt Johnson can hold his own against any other skip, it's going to be how well his inexperienced supporting cast responds that will ultimately decide whether Johnson carries on for another year.

Johnson said the team has been steadily improving this season and is confident they'll be ready.

At the very least, the other three guys on the team have been receiving plenty of media attention in Seattle.

"They're really committed guys," said Johnson. "As a team, you can't play a nine-game round-robin and then a playoff situation without the whole team playing well. Otherwise, you're not going to come out the winner."

CON.GRIWKOWSKY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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