As a troubled 17-year-old growing up near Mount Hood, Ore., Bill Johnson was given a choice by an Oregon judge: a six-month jail sentence for stealing a 1956 Chevy or ski academy. He chose the latter and seven years later became the first American to win Alpine gold in the downhill, at both the '84 worlds and the Olympics in Sarajevo. Johnson, who died on Jan. 21 at 55 after complications due to a series of strokes beginning in 2010, quickly became known both for his upset of skiing's European powerhouses and his reputation as a "shockingly cocky newcomer," as SI described him in a Feb. 27, 1984, cover story (above). "This course was designed for me, and everyone else is here to fight for second place," he said before his medal-winning Olympic run.
TONY TOMSIC FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JOHNSON)