Bill Johnson: Trailblazing U.S. skier dies aged 55

Bill Johnson in action at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

Story highlights

  • History-making U.S. skier dies aged 55
  • Johnson won gold at 1984 Winter Olympics

(CNN)Bill Johnson, the first U.S. skier to win an Olympic men's downhill gold medal, has died aged 55.

Johnson skied into the history books at the age of 23 winning at the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo.
"As a teammate of Bill Johnson during a very successful period of U.S. Ski Team history, I had the utmost respect for his accomplishments as an athlete," The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) President and CEO Tiger Shaw told the U.S. ski team website.
"He established a benchmark for downhill ski racing in America and motivated generations of downhillers to come."
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That benchmark was set when Johnson won on the famous Lauberhorn course at Wengen, Switzerland in January 1984 becoming the first U.S. man to win a World Cup downhill race.
A month later, Johnson clinched his famous win in Sarajevo, sealing Olympic gold after boldly predicting his success, drawing comparisons to quarterback Joe Namath and boxer Mohammed Ali.
Johnson enjoyed further triumphs in Aspen and Whistler that year, sealing a sensational few months. It was, however, the last time Johnson would step up onto the podium before he retired in 1990.
At the age of 40, Johnson attempted a comeback hoping to qualify for the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City. But a serious crash on a training run at Montana's Big Mountain resort in 2001 saw him sustain head injuries which left him in a coma for three weeks.
A series of health issues in recent years, including a stroke in 2010, saw Johnson moved to an Oregon care home, where he passed away, according to Megan Harrod, a spokeswoman for the USSA team.
Lindsey Vonn, winner of the 2010 women's Olympic downhill title, offered her condolences on social media, tweeting "#RIP Bill."