When Emil Johansson placed second at Red Bull Joyride in 2017, the question wasn't if but when he would win the event one day.
It's only been two years since then, but it's been a long road for the 20-year-old Swede. In the intervening years, he was diagnosed not only with a congenital back defect that hampered his riding, but also with an autoimmune disease that ground his recovery to a crawl.
But on Aug. 17, nothing could stop Johansson as he posted an eye-popping 95.75 in his first run to claim his first-ever Joyride victory.
"I'm pretty speechless. I don't really know how to explain this moment, but obviously, it's a childhood dream coming true," he said. "I've had a lot of struggles in the past that I don't know if this day ever would have come.
"Getting the win today feels f---ing awesome, to be honest."
Johansson recalled sitting on top waiting for each rider to complete his second run. Only Canadian Brett Rheeder, with a chance to claim the Triple Crown of Slopestyle, came close, putting up a 94.50 to place second. Third-place finisher Dawid Godziek of Poland, the last rider to drop before Johansson's victory lap, ceded the win to the Swede, coming down the course but not pulling off any risky tricks that might unseat him.
"I was crying on top. I was like, 'Dude, you've got to hold it together. You can't crash. That would be so bad,'" he said. "Watching all the runs, I was worried that the run I did wouldn't have enough and I wouldn't come through.
"That would be really hard, but I was ready for it. I had my headphones in. I didn't really celebrate anything until I got down."
Johansson's winning run looked smooth as butter as he pulled off tricks such as a cork 720 off a hip, a double truck driver to downside tailwhip into a 450 step-through on the next feature, and the piece de resistance, a 360 tailwhip to inward table off the whale tail to cap his attempt.
Johansson said he couldn't pinpoint a trick or two that put him over the top, explaining that he meticulously plans his runs with each trick playing a major role in his success.
"I'm not really a one trick or two rider. I usually try to look at the whole picture and make sure that things make sense off each other," he said. "I really try to make sure that if I do something regular, I try to do the opposite."
That sense of action and reaction has been something Johansson has had to deal with for ill as well, as his progress since his diagnoses has been far from linear. He explained it's been difficult to feel fully healthy again, even after a fourth-place finish at the 2018 Joyride in his only Crankworx contest of the campaign.
"It's been coming on and off. Usually, I would get back to being good and then I would be off my bike for quite some time, or something would happen, if a sickness would come up, it would make me feel worse," he said. "It felt like, 'Oh, you feel too good. Let's put you back a step again.' It was two steps forward, one step back, all the time."
Rheeder, meanwhile, was mostly pleased to place second and to claim the Crankworx World Tour championship. The last time Rheeder had the chance to claim the Triple Crown, in 2015, things fell apart in Whistler as he placed a distant 16th.
While admittedly bummed to miss out on his second chance to claim it, Rheeder took the narrow defeat in stride.
"I know that if I expect to win it and I don't, I'm going to get into that dark area that I was in last time," he said. "I spent the whole year [trying for it] and whatever, but it's OK. It's all good. There's more to life than having that trophy on my shelf."
Rheeder acknowledged he almost went with a more conservative run before deciding to take no prisoners in his second attempt as he tried to claim the Triple Crown.
"I was going to do far less of a run than what I tried on Run 1. There were elements to it that I wasn't going to do, but then I changed my mind five minutes before I dropped in," he said. "I have the Triple Crown here. If there's any time to do it, it's now. Everyone was sending it, doing their runs and landing.
"I decided I was going to some tricks I didn't practice this week, which is scary, because you want to make sure you can do them before the contest."
Among the tricks he added were a flip double barspin off the top log, a double whip, and a backflip off the whale tail.
The silver result capped off a stunning two-season run for Rheeder, as he's finished no lower than second in any of his past seven Crankworx slopestyle events.
However, he said he's considering taking a step back from competitions. While Whistler can expect to see him at the 2020 Joyride, it's up in the air as to where else he'll compete next year.
"I've been so contest-driven for probably 14 or 15 years now and I'm looking for something else, I think," Rheeder said. "We'll see what happens."