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How Bessemer AL’s Jace Johnson Landed a Spot on the U.S. World Cup Bobsled Team

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Born and raised in Bessemer, Jace Johnson has landed a spot on the U.S. World Cup Bobsled Team. (Provided)

By Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

Basketball and bobsledding may not appear to have much in common, but they do in Alabama—for Bessemer’s Jace Johnson.

Born and raised in Bessemer, athlete Jace Johnson has landed a spot on the U.S. World Cup Bobsled Team. (Provided)

Johnson made a smooth-as-ice transition from the hardwood floor to the frozen track, landing a spot on the U.S. World Cup Bobsled Team. Shifting from basketball to bobsledding was more than just a change in sports for the athlete; it was a change in lifestyle, what he calls “the biggest transition of my life.”

Bobsledding [is] the sport of sliding down an ice-covered natural or artificial incline on a four-runner sled, called a bobsled, bobsleigh, or bob, that carries either two or four persons.

On a four-person bobsled team, the last person, or the brakeman, operates the brake, controlling skids and stopping the sled. This is Johnson’s position. “It feels like you’re in a trash can rolling down a hill. As a brakeman, I have no control over what is going on,” he said.

Comparing bobsledding and basketball, Johnson said the sports are similar because of the “explosiveness” required to succeed.

“You have to be able to react very quickly, as well,” he added, noting that the biggest adjustment “is probably going from playing a sport that is indoors to competing in an outdoor sport.”

And Johnson has adjusted. Since entering his rookie year, he has adapted his athletic talents to the bobsledding world. He saw his first gold medal in the sport in a four-man race at the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (ISBF) North American Cup (NAC) in Lake Placid, New York, last November. The 24-year-old considers that accomplishment his biggest to date.

Academics and Athletics

Born and raised in Bessemer, Alabama, Johnson grew up playing basketball, eventually playing at McAdory High School under coach James Poindexter. As a senior, in the 2016–2017 school year, Johnson earned first-team All-Area honors, averaging 20.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. He also served as a school ambassador and was a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta, the national high school and two-year college mathematics honor society.

After graduating from high school in 2017, Johnson attended Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, Alabama. He then went to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in kinesiology.

As a brakeman on the U.S. World Cup Bobsled team, Jace Johnson runs last and operates the brake, controlling skids and stopping the sled. (Provided)

His interest in bobsledding was initially inspired by the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings,” based on the true story about the Jamaican bobsled team’s 1988 Winter Olympics debut.

“Seeing Black people in a movie like that, where it was a predominantly white sport, was interesting to me. I never thought, especially at that time, that 14 years later I would be bobsledding. It was just cool to me. Every four years I would tune in to watch the Winter Olympics bobsledding,” he said.

In 2022, while having a conversation with his strength-and-conditioning coach at Midwestern State University, Johnson was offered some tips about bobsledding.

“[My coach and I] talked about how the bobsled team does a virtual combine, and he said he would help me with some of my submissions if I was interested. One thing led to another, and I ended up in Lake Placid for a rookie camp. Now, I am on the World Cup team.”

Since making his World Cup debut last November, Johnson continues to enjoy his “blessing” and the path to the 2026 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted by the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo; the event is also known as Milano-Cortina 2026.

“Spending so much time in Europe, [in St. Moritz, Switzerland; Innsbruck, Austria; Altenberg, Germany; Winterberg, Germany], for the past couple of months has been surreal,” said the Bessemer native. “It is not an opportunity that most people get. It makes me feel blessed. If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be in this position, it would have been hard to imagine.”

Though bobsledding may not be among the more popular sports in Alabama, Jace Johnson is not the first African American from the state to make strides in the bobsledding community. (Provided)

“Family Oriented”

Currently, Johnson is training in Winterberg, Germany, a winter resort town in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia that’s known for the ski slopes and foot and cycle trails in the surrounding mountains. He trains for three to five hours per day.

Johnson said, “[My teammates] Adrian Adams and Davis Simmon have been more than I can ask for. [They] have been very helpful and very welcoming. They are like big brothers to me, and [they are] showing me the ropes. I’m very appreciative of them.”

Another source of support is his family in Bessemer. “I’m very family oriented. My family means everything to me,” said Johnson, who was home this past Christmas to visit. “I talk to them all the time. They always call and ask me what’s going on with sledding.”

He also speaks to his younger brother, Michael, 16, as much as he can: “We talk all the time. That’s my guy!”

Johnson said one of the biggest things he misses about Alabama is the food. “Birmingham has the best wings in the world,” he said. “My favorite wing spot is J Wings 2.”

Though bobsledding may not be among the more popular sports in Alabama, Johnson is not the first African American from the state to make strides in the bobsledding community.

Bobsledder and another Bessemer native Vonetta Flowers was the first African American and the first Black athlete from any nation to win a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. Flowers paired with Jill Bakken to take the top spot in the two-woman bobsledding event at Salt Lake 2002, held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Just like Johnson competed in basketball before bobsledding, Flowers was a sprinter and long jumper at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Seeing somebody from where you’re from is always motivating and inspiring in itself,” said Johnson.