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Uphill in the Downhill
William Oscar Johnson
December 21, 1987
Badly injured Bill Johnson is trying to regain his gold medal form for the Calgary Games. He'll be hard-pressed to do it
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December 21, 1987

Uphill In The Downhill

Badly injured Bill Johnson is trying to regain his gold medal form for the Calgary Games. He'll be hard-pressed to do it

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Just as this season began, Harald Schoenaar, the director of the U.S. team, said of Johnson's position among American downhillers, "Right now, Bill is fifth in line, so he will need some pretty good results to make the Olympic team." Johnson himself isn't outwardly worried. "All I need are some top 20 finishes in December and some top 10's and top 3's in January. There's no way I'm not one of the four best downhillers in America."

As it turned out, he was indeed one of the four best U.S. racers in Val d'ls�re—but barely, and in depressingly poor company at that. His finish left him behind Jeff Olson (No. 31), Doug Lewis (43) and Andreas Rickenbach (64) and just ahead of Mike Brown (78) and Bill Hudson (83). In Val Gardena he was fifth among the five Americans who finished, trailing Lewis (32), Olson (36), Brown (45) and Kyle Rasmussen (65).

Though better results may lie ahead, perhaps the only absolute guarantee of happiness in Johnson's immediate future is his new bride, the former Gina Ricci, 22, a native of the Tahoe area. She managed a women's clothing store in Fresno before she became Mrs. Billy D on Oct. 30 in the town hall of Wagrain, Austria. Johnson met her through mutual friends at Lake Tahoe last January, just three days after his back surgery. Defiant invalid that he was, he began dancing with her despite the fact that he was using a crutch. "After a few steps with her, I felt so strong that I threw the crutch away and did it on my own," Johnson says.

Whether a similar resurrection can occur on the 1988 Olympic ski slopes in February is much in doubt. Even the irrepressible bad boy of Sarajevo was not about to make any outrageous predictions this time. Asked to forecast his performance in Calgary, Johnson spoke with uncharacteristic seriousness: "There will be no predictions unless I'm in top form. And if I haven't won at least one World Cup race and finished in the top three in a couple of others before the Olympics, then I think there will be very slim pickings for me in Calgary."

And what about the rest of his life? "I will never leave ski racing. I love it. As long as I am on TV from time to time, they're still paying me. No, I won't quit ski racing until I am forced out."

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