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Downhill skiing great Johnson dies



TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: KYLE GREEN - In Nov. 2001, Bill Johnson returned to the slopes of Mt. Hood for the first time since his training run crash in Montana.Bill Johnson, who went from brash young Sandy skier on Mt. Hood to first American Olympic downhill skiing champion, died Thursday at age 55 after a lengthy illness, the U.S. ski team announced Friday.

Johnson died in an assisted living facility in Gresham.

He won the 1984 Sarajevo Olympic downhill, the feature event in alpine skiing. It was the first Olympic gold in any alpine event by a U.S. skier.TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Bill Johnson works out at Cascade Athletic Club in the early 2000s.

Johnson’s first World Cup title also came in 1984, at age 23.

He retired from competition in the late 1980s.

Johnson crashed during a comeback training run in 2001 at The Big Mountain near Whitefish, Mont. He was in a coma for three weeks, suffering a brain injury that severely affected his memory and forced him to relearn how to walk, talk and eat. He skied some after that, but never competed again, and his health declined in recent years, when he was confined to the facility.

"Johnson’s Olympic gold punctuated a stellar Olympics for the U.S. Alpine Ski Team in Sarajevo, winning five medals including gold from Johnson and Phil Mahre," the U.S. Ski team said in announcing his death. "His accomplishments motivated an entire generation of American ski racers, with the team’s current success rooted in the achievements of that 1984 Olympic Team."

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: KYLE GREEN - Bill Johnson, skiing for fun on Mt. Hood in 2001.

Special Olympian highlighted

A local athlete will be part of X Games Aspen’s Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding dual slalom competition, Jan. 28. Each team consists of one Special Olympics athlete and one X Games athlete competing in the dual giant slalom race at Buttermilk Mountain, and Portland’s own Henry Meece was chosen to participate again; he and Chris Klug of Bend took home the gold medal last year.

The X Games will be shown on ESPN and ABC. For more: xgames.com.