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Bill Johnson, Downhill Gold Medalist
Stephen Thomas
February 09, 1998
February 27, 1984
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February 09, 1998

Bill Johnson, Downhill Gold Medalist

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February 27, 1984

Winning the 1984 Olympic men's downhill in Sarajevo made U.S. skier Bill Johnson famous. Telling everyone before the race that he would win made him infamous. "I don't even know why everyone else is here," he said to reporters after his first training run. "Everyone else is here to fight for second place."

At that point Johnson was a 23-year-old from Van Nuys, Calif., who had won all of one World Cup downhill race. Sure, he was the first U.S. man to win one, and, yes, it was at the famous Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland, a few weeks before the Games. Johnson also had the best series of finishes in the five Olympic training runs. "I knew the course and I knew the competition," he says. "I knew the Swiss coach who set the course, and he set it up for his skier, Peter M�ller. M�ller was a glider and I was a glider. It was my destiny."

Still, his peers were annoyed by his brashness and mortified when he made good. Austrian downhill great and 1976 gold medal winner Franz Klammer called Johnson a "nose picker." Johnson raised hackles even further when he told the press what the victory meant to him. "Millions," he said. "We're talking millions."

Gold might have been Johnson's destiny, but untold riches weren't. Although he won two more World Cup downhills after the Olympics and saw himself portrayed by Anthony Edwards in the 1985 made-for-TV movie Going for Gold: The Bill Johnson Story, Johnson, always lackadaisical about his training, was done in by injuries to his left knee and back. In the six seasons before he retired in '90, he had only five top-10 finishes.

Five years ago Johnson founded the Jeep King of the Mountain Series, which pitted a dozen top downhillers from the '70s, '80s and '90s, including himself, against each other. Johnson pulled out of the series in December, and lately he has considered playing the stock market and a career in the construction business. He lives in a gated community in San Diego with his wife, Gina, and their two sons, Nicholas, 5, and Tyler, 3.

Despite everything that he said and everything that was said about him, Johnson has no regrets. "After 1984,1 hung out and had a good time on the circuit for six years," he says. "I had more fun than most people, and the guy who has the most fun wins, right?"

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