Bill Johnson, the skier who became the first American to win a gold medal in Alpine downhill skiing at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, died today in an assisted living facility in Oregon at the age of 55.
I do remember Johnson winning the gold being a rather big deal at the time. In particular, I remember him appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. That was a long time ago. Carson was still at the helm of The Tonight Show and Yugoslavia was still a country.
I must admit I hadn’t given Johnson much thought since that time, but evidently the years after his gold medal triumph were not kind to him. For lack of a better way of putting it, Johnson’s life simply went downhill. Sure he didn’t help himself by partying too much which resulted in him not making the U.S. Olympic team for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. His fall continued with divorce, bankruptcy and the drowning death of his infant son.
Johnson attempted a comeback for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, but sustained brain damage in a crash while training in Montana which left him in a coma for several weeks. He never really recovered from that accident and his health would gradually deteriorate following a series of strokes beginning in 2010 before finally succumbing today.
Under the circumstances, let us end with Bill Johnson’s moment in the sun. Above is a video of his gold medal performance at Sarajevo. Although it was less than two minutes, it was enough to change the direction of American downhill skiing forever.
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