Winning the 1984 Olympic men's downhill in Sarajevo made U.S.
skier Bill Johnson famous. Telling everyone before the race that
he would win made him infamous. "I don't even know why everyone
else is here," he said to reporters after his first training
run. "Everyone else is here to fight for second place."
At that point Johnson was a 23-year-old from Van Nuys, Calif.,
who had won all of one World Cup downhill race. Sure, he was the
first U.S. man to win one, and, yes, it was at the famous
Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland, a few weeks before the Games.
Johnson also had the best series of finishes in the five Olympic
training runs. "I knew the course and I knew the competition,"
he says. "I knew the Swiss coach who set the course, and he set
it up for his skier, Peter Muller. Muller was a glider and I was
a glider. It was my destiny."
Still, his peers were annoyed by his brashness and mortified
when he made good. Austrian downhill great and 1976 gold medal
winner Franz Klammer called Johnson a "nose picker." Johnson
raised hackles even further when he told the press what the
victory meant to him. "Millions," he said. "We're talking
Gold might have been Johnson's destiny, but untold riches
weren't. Although he won two more World Cup downhills after the
Olympics and saw himself portrayed by Anthony Edwards in the
1985 made-for-TV movie Going for Gold: The Bill Johnson Story,
Johnson, always lackadaisical about his training, was done in by
injuries to his left knee and back. In the six seasons before he
retired in '90, he had only five top-10 finishes.
Five years ago Johnson founded the Jeep King of the Mountain
Series, which pitted a dozen top downhillers from the '70s, '80s
and '90s, including himself, against each other. Johnson pulled
out of the series in December, and lately he has considered
playing the stock market and a career in the construction
business. He lives in a gated community in San Diego with his
wife, Gina, and their two sons, Nicholas, 5, and Tyler, 3.
Despite everything that he said and everything that was said
about him, Johnson has no regrets. "After 1984, I hung out and
had a good time on the circuit for six years," he says. "I had
more fun than most people, and the guy who has the most fun
COLOR PHOTO: TONY TOMSIC [Cover of February 27, 1984 Sports Illustrated featuring Bill Johnson]
COLOR PHOTO: KIRK SCHLEA [Bill Johnson in swimming pool]
"I had more fun than most people, and the guy who has the most
fun wins, right?"