Bill Johnson, Former Olympic Downhill Gold Medalist, Dies at Age 55

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2016

FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2002, file photo, Bill Johnson displays his gold medal for the downhill from the 1984 Winter Olympics while eyeing the ski slopes in Breckenridge, Colo.  A series of strokes over the past few years have all but immobilized Johnson, the skier who once lived life on the edge. His brash confidence, movie-star charisma and rebellious attitude made him a fan favorite at the 1984 Olympics, when he became the first American to capture the downhill crown(AP Photo/Peter M. Fredin, File)
Associated Press

Bill Johnson, the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in downhill skiing, died Friday at the age of 55 in Gresham, Oregon.

According to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, the Los Angeles native succumbed to an illness brought on by a series of strokes in recent years.

Johnson became a household name in 1984 when he took gold at the Sarajevo Olympics, as no American man had ever won an alpine skiing gold medal.

Andrew Weibrecht, 2014 Winter Olympics super-G silver medalist, credited Johnson with helping the United States develop into a skiing superpower.

"Bill was an unbelievable fighter since his injury. He went through a lot. It's sad," Weibrecht said. "He was the guy that really jump-started American downhill racing. Nothing had really happened much up until '84 when Bill came and had that fantastic run in Sarajevo, and that same year he won Wengen."

During a comeback attempt in 2001 ahead of the 2002 Olympics, Johnson suffered a brain injury in a training crash and was in a coma for three weeks.

Many expressed their sadness regarding Johnson's death on Twitter, including American downhill skier Steven Nyman:

Johnson was undoubtedly a pioneer in the realm of American skiing, and the sport may have never taken off in the United States if not for his remarkable effort in 1984. His accomplishments will surely continue to have a positive impact on USA skiing for many years to come.