Olympic Downhill Champion Bill Johnson Passed Away

Bill Johnson, a pioneer in Alpine skiing, dead years after strokes

The world lost an Olympic legend Thursday.

Bill Johnson, who became the first US skier to win an Olympic downhill title, died after a long illness; according to the US ski team. He was 55 years old.

Johnson had a series of strokes over the past six years, causing him to lose the abilities to move his arms or legs. He was also left without the ability to really speak either, in between coughing and choking fits, according to KGW.

Johnson’s experiences are not unlike those of other patients who have had strokes. Patients typically have weakness or numbness in the body, experience emotional changes due to either natural response or physical effects of the brain, and cognitive abilities (remembering, thinking) become challenging, according to the National Stroke Association.

Johnson won the downhill title at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, becoming the first American to win gold in Alpine skiing’s marquee event. He was became the first American male to capture Olympic gold in any Alpine event.

Johnson attempted a comeback at the age of 40 for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, but crashed in a downhill training run in 2001 at the US champions at The Big Mountain near Whitefish, Montana, according to the Associated Press. Johnson sustained a traumatic brain injury that erased almost a decade of memories. He was also forced to relearn how to walk, talk and eat again.

Johnson was a pioneer for American skiers, and will be dearly missed.