Instead of 10 Questions this week, Sun Assistant Managing Editor Jasmine Marcus ’10 conducted a slightly more serious interview with Rebecca Johnston ’12, who won the gold medal with the Canadian hockey team at the Winter Olympics last week.
Sun: To start off, can you tell me a little bit about how you started playing hockey?
Rebecca Johnston: I started when I was about four years old in Ontario. I had five brothers and sisters, so we all basically played growing up. I was on a guys team and my dad was the coach. He coached me for a lot of those years. And then I started playing at Cornell.
Sun: How did you end up at Cornell? Was hockey a motivating factor in choosing a college?
R.J.: Yeah, for sure. That was definitely one of the many things I looked into in a school. My oldest sister went to Harvard, and then my [next] oldest sister went to Cornell, so I kind of was looking between those two schools because I was familiar with them, and I knew I wanted to go to an Ivy League school. And I just thought that Cornell suited me better and I really enjoyed my visit there, and the coach and the hockey program are pretty amazing there, as you can see this year with how well we’re doing. Yeah, so I’m really glad I chose Cornell.
Sun: Did playing for Cornell help get you to the level you’re at today?
R.J.: I’ve really enjoyed my two years so far. My coach Doug Derraugh ’91, I think has played a really big part and taught me a lot already because he was a forward too and he played at Cornell, and he’s just a really good hockey player. He’s taught me a lot of individual skills. I’d always go out on the ice with him in the mornings, and I’d stay out after practice, and he’d always be up for anything no matter what time it was to help me out. So he was a big part in that, and the facilities — I was always able to go on when I wanted, use the treadmills, all that kind of stuff. The whole atmosphere at Cornell. My teammates. Everything has helped me improve as a player.
Sun: How do you get to be on the Olympic Team? Do you contact them, or do they contact you?
R.J.: They go out and scout around Canada and wherever you play, and they determine who’s going to come try out. I was on the [national] team for a year before the Olympics, and they basically have you go through the national program and then you get invited to attend camps and try-outs, and I was in the under-22 program. And they saw me, and then they watch you play — they came many times to watch me play at Cornell — and this past year, they picked 26 players to be centralized in Calgary, and I took a year off from school. And it was a six- or seven-month try-out where we played games and practiced every day. And then the team was picked in December, and we had a month and a bit before the Olympics. So I’ve been training here in Calgary since the beginning of August.
Sun: So I’m guessing that was a pretty easy decision to say, ‘Alright, I could be in the Olympics. Let’s take a year off of school.’
R.J.: Yeah, for me it was pretty easy. Obviously I didn’t want to leave school and take a year off, but I think it was the best decision I’ve ever done because to get to experience the Olympics and have a chance at winning a medal is pretty special. It could only happen once in my lifetime. So I’m very pleased with what I decided.
Sun: Was Cornell cooperative in letting you take the year off?
R.J.: Oh yeah. They were really thrilled. My coach has never been more excited. He contacted me all the time to make sure everything was going well, and he’s just so thrilled I made the team. And then the teachers were definitely very supportive, too. They know it’s a big deal and were very happy for me.
Sun: That’s good. What was it like forming chemistry with all these new teammates?
R.J.: Well I basically knew everyone already before this year, because I’d been on the [national] team before. So you come to tryouts and it wasn’t too hard to get to know all the girls. And we had about seven months to bond and get to know each other even better. So it’s been a good year.
Sun: How confident were you going into the Olympics that you would win the gold medal?
R.J.: I was confident that if we played well, we should do well and get a medal. I wasn’t 100 percent sure we’d get that gold medal, but it was definitely a goal that we had, and we’ve been striving for it for the past year, so I was confident that if we played the way we knew how, good things would happen.
Sun: What was it like once you all won? What does that feel like?
R.J.: It’s almost something I never thought I would feel. I can’t describe it in words; it’s just the most amazing feeling ever. I don’t think anything would be able to top that. It’s just amazing being able to play for your country, getting that medal around your neck in your home crowd where everyone’s cheering for you. It was just an amazing feeling and something I will never forget.
Sun: Yeah, I was going to say it must be even more special being at home in Canada. Were you able to have a lot of friends and family members there?
R.J.: Yeah, that was a great thing. I had most of my family there for the two weeks, and for the final game I actually spotted them out in the stands, and I see my mom waving down at me, with my jersey on. So it was pretty neat getting to experience that with them. It was also neat to have 20,000 fans in the arena cheering us on. It was pretty amazing.
Sun: What it was like to have America be the team you beat, since you go to school in America, and most of your Cornell teammates are American?
R.J.: Well, they tell me they cheered for me even though they’re from America. I kind of figured we’d be against the U.S. at some time during the tournament, and it’s always great playing against the United States because there’s great hockey players there too. It’s a good experience, and my friends are all happy for me even if they are American.
Sun: Well that’s good. What reactions have you gotten since then?
R.J.: Well, everywhere we walk now, there’s a crowd of people excited for us. I just got back to Calgary last night, and there was media and a whole bunch of fans cheering us on and asking to meet us. That was kind of neat: all the support, and everyone just excited for what we did.
Sun: So what will you do with your gold medal?
R.J.: I’m going to keep it with me at home for a little bit. Just look at it every once in a while. But I’m probably going to put it away eventually to make sure it’s safe because that’s something that’s irreplaceable and I’d never want to lose.
Sun: The team got into a little trouble for the celebration that took place after your win. What happened?
R.J.: I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Obviously, we were celebrating after our game. Nothing can really top that, so we were just having a beer outside of the dressing room. It wasn’t anything too crazy.
Sun: Do you think there’s a bit of a double standard going on? Because several male athletes have celebrated similarly and no one’s said anything about it.
R.J.: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I think they just wanted to do a story on it, and it was out of our control. Maybe we should have stayed in the dressing rooms — who knows? — but we were just excited that we won the medal so we wanted to celebrate. And I don’t regret it — it was a lot of fun.
Sun: What’s the Olympic Village like? You hear about the free food, the clothes, the fact that they need to give out 100,000 free condoms. It sounds crazy.
R.J.: [Laughing] Yeah, they do have condoms everywhere. But it was a great experience to stay there since some of the athletes weren’t able to, or they were staying in Whistler. There’s a [cafeteria] where everyone goes to eat, and everyone has their food from their country. It was neat to just be around all the other athletes and see and meet other athletes. It was a pretty fun experience.
Sun: Is there anyone you met that stands out to you?
R.J.: Yes. For hockey players, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. A lot of players like that. It was pretty neat just to see them walking around. It was cool; I was pretty excited about that.
Sun: Did you get to watch any of the other events?
R.J.: Yeah, I was able to see a lot of the men’s games, which was a lot of fun. And then mainly I was just watching on T.V. because we didn’t have a lot of days after when we were done with our games. And you could hear them from my room anyway.
Sun: So what will you do now for the next few months?
R.J.: Basically just go home and relax. I’ll probably take a few courses. Have a vacation maybe.
Sun: And will you be back at Cornell in the fall?
R.J.: Yeah, I’ll be back next year. And I’m going to come visit some time in the next few months.
Sun: Are you looking ahead at all to the Sochi Olympics in 2014?
R.J.: Well yeah, that’s definitely [going to] come up. Especially at the closing ceremony there was that whole presentation on the next Olympics. I think it’s at the back of my mind, but I haven’t truly focused on it. We just won, so I don’t want to focus on that just yet.
Sun: Yeah, you have some time.