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Bill Johnson, 1984 Olympic downhill champion, dies at 55

Bill Johnson

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 16, 1984 file photo, Bill Johnson of Van Nuys, Ca., speeds down the downhill course on Mount Bjelansnica near Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, at the Winter Olympic Games. Thirty years ago, Bill Johnson changed a Europe-dominated sport’s perception of American skiing. On Jan. 15, 1984, Johnson’s wild ride in Wengen delivered a first U.S. men’s downhill victory in the 18th World Cup season. (AP Photo/Dieter Endlicher, File)


Bill Johnson, the 1984 Olympic downhill champion who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2001 crash, died Thursday, the U.S. Ski Team confirmed though Johnson’s mother.

“He suffered the worst kind of pain for the past three weeks,” said his mother, DB Johnson-Cooper, according to the Oregonian. “Then he could no longer swallow, which prevented him from being able to have nourishment.”

Johnson predicted he would win the downhill at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Games and followed through, becoming the first American man to capture Olympic Alpine gold.

The man with the “Ski To Die” tattoo was left off the 1988 Olympic team, lost his son to drowning in 1992, and his marriage ended in 1999.

Johnson attempted a comeback prior to the 2002 Olympics, but a horrible skiing crash left him in a temporary coma and with severe brain injuries. In 2010, he suffered a major stroke.

VIDEO: Bill Johnson profile by Jim McKay during Salt Lake 2002 Olympics

In June 2013, he spent two weeks in intensive care while doctors unsuccessfully attempted to find the source of an infection that attacked all of his major organs.

By last March, Johnson could no longer move his arms or legs and couldn’t really speak, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s really sad,” Lindsey Vonn said Friday, according to The Associated Press. “He’s had a rough couple of years, and it’s been sad to watch him deteriorate like that. But you know when you’re in a state like that I think it’s a blessing sometimes. He was an incredible legend in our sport, so I just hope he rests in peace and my condolences to his family.”

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