In August of 2011, I first met Gea Johnson.
She is one of the sweetest women I have met, combined with a champion's ability to do what it takes, while having the fragility of nearly disintegrating under stress from life's demands and still finding the fortitude to overcome it.
She struggles financially, like most of us, has only a few enthusiastic support followers, and is driven to persevere towards any goal she sets.
While having muscles that would rival a gorilla, she still very much enjoys being a girly girl and keeping a fabulous feminine appearance.
She is self-funded (thank you Visa), so this becomes a major limiter to what she can attempt to improve her abilities and results.
Her athletic career had begun in high school in 1983 with the dream of future Olympic glory.
Using weight lifting as her foundation, she excelled in heptathlon in 1985, continued on into Olympic lifting, and then applied that enormous strength to make the 2002 Olympic Bobsledding team.
Her physique illustrates the many hours that have been spent at the gym and her passion to find her ultimate form, no matter what her age and despite numerous severe injuries and surgeries.
An injury during the 2002 Olympics side lined her for a while and after pushing through the pain to return to top form, hoped to have a chance again at Olympic success.
But the bobsleigh environment discouraged her pursuit because of her age.
Rather than fight an uphill battle, she discovered track cycling and hoped that some of the pure timed events might allow her to achieve her goals based on her ability, rather than subjectivity.
This lofty pursuit would be made more difficult by the fact that we live in Arizona and the closest tracks are in California.
Thus most of her training with me is on a half mile straight section of road about a mile from my home.
This is then supplemented with expensive trips to California to perfect technique on the 250 m steeply banked velodromes.
However, this provides a very limited racing schedule as track events are few and expensive to attend.
She had just begun her career in cycling from ground zero in 2010 while I was living in Canada and my best friend Rick Giordano had passed on all that he could that I had taught him over the year we had together before I left.
At the Masters National Track championships in 2010 (her first visit to a velodrome), she won a bronze in the 500 m (with a time of 40.495), a 3rd in the flying 200 m (with a time of 13.255), and picked up 2 additional bronze medals in the Sprint and Team Sprint,
with all of those except the 200 performed with a broken elbow and wrist from a crash during the match sprints.
After tutelage from Rick, she had improved those times to 38.0 in the 500 and 12.7 in the 200 during the 2011 AZ State Championships.
In December she rode a 37.439 500 m, setting a National Women's 40-45 record
, just short of a World record.
In 2012 she attended the Masters Nationals, setting new official Masters World Records (Women 45-59) in the 500 (37.398
in a separate record attempt) and 200 and easily won in the 200 (12.001
), 500 (38.06), Sprint, and Team Sprint.
Further fine tuning of technique showed 2013 results at the Masters Nats garnered gold in the 500 (37.07) and 200 (12.237) and the Sprint.
2013 included more racing experience by racing at the Elite Nationals where she got a bronze in the 500 (36.838) and a 4th in the team sprint.
That same year she traveled abroad to Manchester England to win the Masters World Championships in the 500 (36.415
) and Sprint (200: 12.319
With success building, 2014 built more steam with wins at the Masters Nationals in 500, 200, Sprint, and Team Sprint (setting an elite women's
in the 500 (36.321)).
She garnered a fantastic Silver at the Elite Nationals in the 500 (36.517) at age 47, which would have been gold if she had been on a good day.
She achieved more wins at the Masters Worlds in the 500 (36.116 and a record attempt of 35.701, the fastest elite U.S. women's time at sea level), 200 (11.811
and Sprint (setting new World Records again).
It's apparent that her improvement has been steady and her achievements very remarkable.
Her desire to not let age define her limitations was working.
Masters wins were too easily accomplished, so the Elite level of competition (the uppermost level in the sport) would then be her focus.
2015 would be a pivotal year to garner points and stature for upcoming Pan-American Championships, World Championships, and a possible Olympic team berth.
One might have surmised that the National Federation would have noticed her talent and provide support in invitations to events and races, yet they remained silent.
This was further complicated by the fact that her best event was the 500 which was recently dropped from the Olympics and thus not a high priority for any National Federation.
However the Team Sprint is a 2 women event of the same length and Gea is probably the best 2nd rider in the country for that event, but with no support from any coaches and most riders, she is often unable to ride the event due to a lack of a partner.
Coaches make their money by having clients.
Successful clients illustrate a successful coach, which brings in more clients and financial stability for the coach.
Thus a coach benefits if he can exclude riders not under his guidance from doing well, so it behooves him to not let any of his riders team up with an outside rider which could make the outside rider look successful.
If these coaches also have influence with USAC, then the situation for a rider outside of these tight circles of a handful of private coaches is extremely prejudicial.
Gea realized that with the politics in place, she would have zero chance to make it on the Olympic team.
Having no track to regularly train on, developing the proper Match Sprint skills would be extremely difficult.
With no partner allowed to join her in a Team Sprint, she would not even be able to start in that event.
With some calculation, we concluded that she could still compete at the 2016 World Championships in the individual 500 and salvage some kind of racing program.
To qualify for this, a rider has to have a minimum point tally from UCI events, the primary point carrier being the continental championships, which for Gea would be the Pan American Championships and thus a requirement to garner enough points.
So Gea took it upon herself to try to get international competition to World Cup events.
She contacted Jamie Staff at USA Cycling who responded on 9/19/14 with
"At the end of the day age doesn't matter, it’s about performance. As far as USAC is concerned if you can do times then you can compete at international level.
She contacted Danny Robertson (a rider in Colorado) on 10/27/14, who was unhappy with the current politics and sprint program and would try to get some attention for a World Cup invite.
He tried to get her name noticed and said that she could possibly expect a phone call for training at camp prior to going to the January World cup.
No phone call ever materialized.
She contacted USAC asking for advice as to how to move up the ladder to attend higher level international events, including the Pan Am Championships.
The response on 11/8/14 was:
"You’ll need an international license with us, a foreign permission letter. Outside of that, a lot of the other stuff is up to the race director themselves.
So not a lot of guidance there.
Meanwhile she'd scan the dismal results of the U.S. Women that had been sent to the World Cup event in Guadalajara (24th and 37th in the 200, 9th in Team Pursuit, 16th in Team Sprint).
On 11/10/14, while trying to discover on our own how Gea could get an automatic selection to the Pan Am Championships, we discovered a USAC document stating a time of 34.750
which Must be done between March 1, 2014 and July 31, 2014 in a UCI international CL 1-3 event or a UCI cycling NTC event.
We were already too late for that date and only one American, 14 years go, has beaten that time and while she was doping (and subsequently banned, but her result not disqualified).
2/26/15 Gea sent an email to Andy Sparks, one of the USAC coaches:
My name is Gea Johnson.
I am currently a Masters World Champion / World Record Holder in the 200m and 500m.
I was the silver medalist last year (2014) in the 500m at the US Elite Nationals.
My ultimate goal is to vie for a spot on the Olympic Team in the Team Sprint and possibly other sprint events.
I've read through the various criteria and I am really hoping you can provide some clarification.
Specifically, what exactly do I need to do to be eligible/selected for the Olympic Team in the Team Sprint?
I was planning on competing in the 500m at races on the National Track Calendar to showcase my ability and potential for the Team Sprint.
However, I was very surprised to discover the 500m is not even offered at ANY of these events?!
Are you able to offer some advice on how best to go about this since the 500m will not be contested?
I am indeed planning on doing World Record attempts at some of the competitions anyway, so regardless, I will be doing some 500m Time Trials.
Will these times be noticed, counted, accepted, and/or considered for the Team Sprint??
For instance, last year I went much faster during an official World Record attempt in Manchester, UK a couple of months after the Elite Nationals ( the elite nationals was my first race of the year ).
Although I certainly plan on posting faster times, I was still hoping to be extended an opportunity to compete in the Team Sprint based on my current PR's?!
Another very important goal and perhaps an even more immediate goal is competing at the Elite World Championships in the 500m.
I noticed at the recent World Championships in France, the US did not compete in the Women's Team Sprint or in Women's 500m - the 2 events in which I am most interested.
I am hoping you can provide some guidance on how best to go about being strongly considered for selection in both of these events next year.
I am hoping to attend several international events that include 500m TT races to garner qualification points towards this goal.
If I have the points and proficient times, are there other USAC hurdles that would preclude me from attending the Worlds?
I am also very interested in competing in the Match Sprints at World Cup events and also potentially even higher level competitions after I gain some experience.
So aside from amassing the appropriate World Cup points necessary to be eligible and meeting the time standards, are there other factors I need to be aware of that are not specifically stated in the criteria?
There seems to be quite a bit of arbitrary selection allowed and I just want to make sure I understand exactly what I would need to do in order to accomplish my goals!
Thank you very much! I hope to hear from you soon!
To which she received a reply:
From: "Sparks, Andy"
Date: February 27, 2015 at 7:54:13 PM MST
To: Gea Johnson
Subject: RE: Sprint Team Selection
Thanks for the note. I saw you race at Nationals and you were very strong.
To participate in the world cups, all riders wishing to race need to achieve their respective USAC time standard and also have enough world cup qualifying points to qualify themselves to compete. The 2 riders who achieved both this year were Missy and Mandy.
For the Olympics we will not qualify a spot for the women’s team sprint as we are too far behind on points. I think we will only be in a position to qualify an Olympic spot for the keirin.
I am headed out for vacation and will be back in a couple of weeks. Please let me know if you have any follow up questions.
Have a good weekend,
So basically, he confirmed that USAC had left Gea out of enough opportunities that she was not qualified to be considered for any selections and they would continue to do so.
3/15/15 Gea sent an email To Andy Sparks, trying to get information to help her qualify for the 2016 World Championships:
As mentioned previously, I also need more information on riding the Elite World Championships and the Pan American Championships in the 500 meter TT.
I would like to pursue an international program of participating in UCI events that offer qualification points (as there are none in the U.S.).
However, I would like to know prior to this investment, if I do earn the points to ride the World Championships, are there USAC barriers that might prohibit me from representing the U.S. at those events? Additionally, since there is no 90 point for requirement for the Pan Am Championships, what specifically would I need to do to demonstrate my ability in the 500mTT / Team Sprint other than posting the fastest US Elite times?
3/23/15 Andy replies:
I am heading home from Chile now but will circle back up my arrival.
Hope all is well,
3/30/15 Andy replies again:
The selection procedures for the new year will be listed shortly on the web site. I do not make those but that is what I have been told. My guess is that they would be similar to last year’s process.
Long story short, the rider with the most UCI point at the end of the season is the rider who has the best case to make for Worlds selection.
For riders to attend world cups they need achieve the respective time standard and earn world cup qualifying points which falls on the rider’s shoulders to do so. These events are called UCI class I-III races (Class 1 allotting the most points but also the most competitive). The UCI made this new system last year…
We will have a 3 race UCI Gran Prix series in Colorado this Summer starting on July 3 and finishing on the 12th. This would be a good race to showcase yourself as well and we will have women’s 500M within the program.
Please let me know if you have any follow up questions!
Hope all is well,
However, nothing was listed on the web site later on and he simply reiterated what Gea had already told him.
He did clarify that if USAC didn't send you to UCI meets in the past to get qualification points, you won't be considered for future selections either, even if you're faster.
By April the Colorado meets were not on the USAC National Track Calendar page, but some information could be gleaned from the UCI calendar.
4/6/15 Gea had not seen any standards published and was considering traveling world wide to get some points.
She sent an email to Andy:
Thank you very much for getting back to me. I still have some primary points that need addressing:
1) Since UCI points are a primary consideration for attending the Worlds, I need to know what I need to do to attend the Pan American Championships in Chile on September 1-6. Also, what is the deadline date to showcase time/performance for this team selection to the Pan Am Championships in Chile?
2) Could you clarify that if I proved myself with points, would USAC send a participant to the 2016 Worlds in the Women's 500 and allow me to compete? What other factors might be considered?
3) Could you also define what the time standards are for the Women's 500m?
4/27/15 Gea has not heard back from Andy, so she sends:
I'm still in need of these questions being answered. I'm hoping you can get back to me soon.
5/5/15 after stalling for over a month, Andy finally replies, with a non-answer (again misspelling her name):
I am not able to provide more in-depth answers to your questions than the previous answers I supplied. Please let Jim know your questions and concerns as he will be able to provide some better direction on selection procedures.
Have a good week!
Director of Track Programs
210 USA Cycling Point, Suite 100
Colorado Springs, CO 80919
However, by then the USAC had published the selection criteria (which Andy was apparently unaware of, but we had discovered on our own earlier), so there was no need to have Jim Miller just redirect us to that published information.
The criteria was to do a 34.750 (at any altitude) by 7/31 at a UCI 1-3 event or a US NTC event (page 13) for consideration to the Pan Ams.
An extremely difficult goal (a time that had never been done on U.S. soil previously), but Gea had something definite to shoot for.
In hopes of getting some UCI points to help qualify her for the 2016 World Championships (which does include a 500) and hopefully post times good enough to allow her to be considered to go to the Pan American Championships,
Gea decided to compete in the 3 UCI events held in Colorado in July (a good result in Colorado and the Pan Ams would allow her to attend the Worlds and without the expense of traveling off the continent).
This decision would knowingly result in her ineligibility to compete in any Masters events, so she would be unable to maintain her National and World championship titles for the next 12 months and eliminate much of her racing for the season if she could not go on to other UCI events outside the U.S.
With no chance of a good partner for the Team Sprint, possibly her best event, she'd never get enough points to compete in that event at the Worlds or Olympics.
After a late night start to drive the 2 days to Colorado from Scottsdale AZ in bad weather conditions, Gea arrived frazzeled in Colorado Springs.
It didn't help matters that the registration for the upcoming 3 events was messed up on the web site and she was unable to register beforehand and that officially there was to be no on-site registering for the races.
So she wasn't even sure if after all this, if she'd even be able to compete.
7/3/15 U.S. Independence Day Grand Prix
Gea was able to do a 500 m TT with less than stellar results, although her time was nothing to be ashamed of, placing 5th out of 23 (from an International field), 2nd fastest U.S. woman with a time of 36.015 (other U.S. woman was 35.918)
The next day she had her 200 and match sprints, but had still not recovered from the hectic drive and only managed a 9th out of 15 and 5th fastest U.S. woman.
7/7/15 U.S. Grand Prix of Colorado Springs
Gea still did not perform well, with a 12th in the 200 (12.339), 7th fastest U.S. woman.
However next day she had an opportunity to do a Team Sprint with Lindsay Nelson for a 2nd overall behind the team from the Netherlands,
clocking the fastest second lap split of all the teams, partnered with a teammate that produced the slowest first lap.
7/10/15 U.S. Vic Williams Memorial Grand Prix
By the end of the week she was starting to feel better although she was still struggling with the altitude.
She had a great 200 m qualifying time of 11.53 and handily won her quarter-final rides.
But then just 10 minutes after completing the sprint quarter-finals, had to squeeze in a 500 m record attempt at the end of that morning session, which was an extra event the other participants didn't do
(she's always trying to better her own records and this was the only time provided and she did break her record with a 35.328).
Later in the day were the Match Sprint semi-finals, which were really tough as they only gave her 5 minutes between heats, not even enough time to get off the bike or remove a helmet, 3 times in a row;
yet Gea was able to beat eventual Dutch winner Yesna Rijkhoff in the first of her semi-final rides.
This seriously affected her, feeling light headed, sick, and nearly passing out.
Then on her second ride against the eventual winner, with only 6 minutes of rest, she got beat 2 in a row and it was difficult to even stay upright.
One of the U.S. riders, Dana Feiss, paid Gea a visit and gave her a violent, negative yelling attack, while Gea was riding the rollers for her next event just minutes away and barely coherent due to the exhaustion of the just finished event.
This is the kind of behavior that Dana later describes as a "welcoming attitude towards new woman riders" in an interview
at the end of the year (where she also insults Gea's pink, sparkly bike).
The coaches joined in with the attack.
The paramedics in the field said that she should not have done those final rides; she was ghastly white and her chest was blotchy.
She was the first U.S. woman in 4th place overall (200m of 11.53), beating the other woman that are normally sent out to the UCI events (including Dana).
She felt that if she had not done the 500 and they had provided a more normal amount of time between heats, that she would have beaten both of the woman that took her in the semis and finals.
The next day was her final chance to do an astounding 500.
After a 200, 500, and 7 match sprints on the previous day, plus all the drama from her U.S. enemies, she was unsure of her abilities.
Her borrowed race wheels were no longer available and she had to find other loaner wheels to do the event.
This complicated getting to the track expediently and was even fined 50 chf for being late to the start line, where the woman official yelled at her 3 more times after giving her the fine.
So with no time for a warm up, she was the fastest U.S. women, getting a bronze medal overall, but her time of 35.611 was not going to give her an automatic selection to the Pan American Championships (the winning Dutch rider with a time of 35.235 wouldn't have qualified either).
Immediately after the ride she had non-stop vomiting and had to see the paramedics again.
During these 3 events, none of the U.S. coaches, including Bill Huck, the National Sprint coach, would talk to Gea, give her congratulations for breaking her Masters World Record 3 times, for having stupendous 200 m sprint times (all under 12 seconds),
or even acknowledge her existence, except Andy who once said "See you" as he passed by on his way off the track at the end of the day.
She was one of two U.S. women to beat the powerful Dutch riders over the 10 days of competition.
Her 35.3 in the 500 m record attempt is the fastest 500 m time of any U.S. woman on U.S. soil.
8/5/15 Elite National Championships
Gea received (and followed) some bad advice and over-stressed her body just prior to the meet (seriously injuring her hamstring that had previously had surgery).
She debated about even competing and her body was near cramping the whole time.
Gea does a 36.58 for 3rd out of 14 in the 500 m TT, behind Madalyn Godby (35.527) and Mandy Marquardt (36.046), who also were left off of the Pan Am team (see below).
8/6/15 Team Sprint: Gea teams up with her friend Shelby Walter to take a bronze with a 36.327.
8/7/15 Match Sprint: having a less than stellar day due to feeling very bad, she decides it best to not damage her health and pulls out of the competition after getting the 6th fastest 200 m time (12.273).
7/27/15 Gea put in tons of work creating a discretionary request
to be included in the Pan American Championship team, knowing it was most likely a waste of time.
Of course she received zero response.
8/4/15 USAC announces the selection for the
Pan American Championships
No woman is sent to participate in the 500 m TT.
Of course Gea is left off, Dana is included for the sprint.
So there is zero chance that Gea can compete in the 2016 World Championships in the 500.
On 12/18/15, USAC announced the long list
of the 2016 Olympic track team.
There was never any criteria given as to how one could qualify for the long list.
There are time criterias published, but pretty much nobody meets those standards and without ever being allowed to compete at a high level, it's nearly impossible to ever attain those times; a nice catch 22.
Published criteria states "an evaluation based on results from major international competition, current ranking on the appropriate UCI individual classification, and time standards where applicable", so those constantly excluded from International competition and foreign UCI meets will never have a chance.
There was no mention of how this team was selected, with 11 of the 12 women riders being discretionary nominations.
Logically, it appears to be purely a political favoritism choice as it is for all the World Cup races that garner points for the bigger competition's team selections.
Registered Testing Pool
September 9, 2015, Gea gets a friendly email
informing her that she has met the sport's criteria to be included in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Registered Testing Pool (“RTP”).
Basically anyone in the National testing pool must submit quarterly as to where you are going to be for every hour of every day for the next 3 months.
Failure to submit this report will be counted as a Missed Test.
Then as reality settles in, you must report updates on a regular basis for anything that varies from that report.
If they come at any time during the 24 hours, 365 days a year where they don't find you, you get a missed test.
3 missed tests in a 12 month period is considered an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV), typically followed by a 2 to 4 year suspension.
The whereabouts page
is a little ambiguous where a paragraph in the middle states:
Any athlete who is in the USADA International Testing Pool (ITP) must provide a specific 60-minute time slot every day between 5 a.m. – 11 p.m. that anchors the athlete to a specific location. The athlete chooses the 60-minute time slot to fit their schedule and must be available and accessible for testing at a specific location during the entire 60-minute time slot. Please note that USADA can choose to, and does test athletes outside of the their 60-minute window. You will be directly notified of your inclusion in the international testing pool.
So they state that you must give a 60 minute window, but then also state that they can test outside the window, making the window totally irrelevant.
So basically you have to inform them as to where you will be for every hour of your life, whether it's going out to dinner,
deciding to go to a movie afterwards, fitting in a ride in between storm cycles, going to the grocery store,
visiting your relatives to help with an emergency, etc.
Heaven forbid you get stuck in a traffic jam, a detour, a flat tire, or bad weather that prohibits you from meeting your expected schedule;
or even worse, stuck in a plane on the runway where they won't allow you to text your altered plans.
I doubt that jail parolees are scrutinized to such an extent.
It would be easier if they just gave you an ankle bracelet and let them find you that way.
I sent an email
to USADA on 1/11/16 asking why they have a "60 minute window" if testing can and does occur outside of that window.
I received a surprising reply 10 days later, which included a confidentiality notice at the bottom that stated I could not distribute the information contained in it.
It was from "Athlete Express", with no persons's name (which appears cowardly and unprofessional).
I'll probably be breaking the confidentiality in the following sentences by sharing some of the secrets that are apparently not supposed to be advance knowledge to the unsuspecting athlete.
The reply email confirmed that the 60 minute window is just one window that the athlete must be responsible for, the other major window being their daily overnight location, with no hours given as to what they consider overnight.
In addition, it was specified that athletes must report their training activity, work activity, school activity, church and other functions, competitions, and other travels.
So for the athlete that does not have a regular pre-defined schedule of activities, this could be many times per day if the expected schedule gets delayed by traffic, business meeting overruns,
longer than expected training sessions, delaying a departure by socializing too long, deciding to eat out rather than return home, go shopping on the spur of the moment, etc.
Basically USADA needs to know where you are for every hour of every day of the year in advance.
If they can catch a slip up 3 times over a year's period, you can no longer be a competitive athlete.
Since the email from Athlete Express raised more questions, I sent a reply email and immediately got a reply from Brittany Bender of USADA.
It also raised more questions, so I replied to Brittany with those questions, however she failed to ever clear those up with a response.
You would think that only the elite of the elite would be placed under this scrutiny, but Gea's Elite participation has consisted of 5 events over the last 3 years (the Nats in 2012, the Nats in 2013, the Colorado meets and the Nats in 2014, her entire elite career).
So she has performed well enough to meet the criteria to be in the testing pool, but yet still is never invited to any USAC events, training programs, coaching advice, financial support, and has trouble even getting a reply from an email or phone call.
We're not sure what those criteria were, being that she only competed in Colorado and at the Elite Nationals in 2015 (a one month period within the U.S.), but now she's got this huge responsibility.
It's seems suspiciously malicious, in hoping that they can stop her from competing if they can catch her off guard often enough.
Sunday, January 3, 2016 Gea gets her first knock on the door for a doping test.
She had unexpectantly spent Saturday night at her mother's house in Maricopa and updated her whereabouts to indicate she would be at her home (an hour away) at 9 am.
At 7:44 am on Sunday morning, while her phone was turned off (while sleeping at her mother's house), she had received a voice mail from USADA stating that they had been at her house for an hour (pounding on the door incessantly, according to neighbors).
Chances are, being a sound sleeper, she would have slept through this announcement at the door anyway.
Apparantly USADA has determined that Sleeping is a Performance Enhancing Method and should be discouraged.
Then another voice mail at 8:40 am said that they were leaving, test concluded.
Gea arrived at home in Scottsdale at 9:00 am and remembered to turn on her phone and noticed the 2 voice mails.
Contacting the testing representative was futile at that point as they had finished their job and were driving back to Tucson and there was no recourse.
1 strike, 2 to go until they've effectively eliminated her from any competition in any WADA sport.
Current Status (January 2016)
Currently Gea is striving to improve her abilities and surpass the National Standing Start 500 m record, set by Tammy Thomas on 8/12/2001 between her two drug suspensions (one ending April 2000 and the lifetime ban beginning on 3/31/2002)
and the National Standing Start 250 m record, set by Madalyn Godby in 2013, 3 days after her positive drug test, which the USADA only suspended her for that one day.
On paper, Gea has more strength than the current world record holder in this event, so even at her age, it is entirely possible to achieve this and it has no political hindrances.
She only has 1.28 seconds to shave off her personal best, which was done at sea level compared to the record performed at an altitude of 7415 feet (thinner air = less resistance = faster times).
Other goals include improving her 200 and 500 times to outperform those selected to the National team, just to demonstrate that those chosen are not the fastest.
Donations to support Gea in her pursuit of track cycling achievements can be made at http://geajohnson.com/donations.asp