Gold medalist Bill Johnson, slowed by disease, still craves the speed of downhill racing

Bill Johnson celebrates his Gold Medal in 1984.

Before there was Bode, there was Bill. As in “Wild Bill” Johnson, the first American downhiller to win a gold medal. And he didn’t do it quietly.

Despite the fact that he had just joined the World Cup tour in 1983 and only won a single downhill, Johnson brashly predicted that he would win gold in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with the rest of the skiing world. But Johnson backed up his boast with a Gold Medal performance.

Just as fast as he rose, though, Johnson’s mercurial ways — many suggest that his partying made Bode Miller’s recent behavior look like a choirboy — brought him back down. He was left off the 1988 Olympic team and injuries forced him off the tour in 1990.

In 2001 at age 40 he tried the unthinkable: a comeback in downhill at age 40. A severe crash left him in a coma, from which he miraculously recovered.

But a series of strokes in recent years have left him in perilous health. Sports Illustrated recently caught up with Johnson to retell his story and connect with the skier, now confined to a wheelchair. Read the compelling story.

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