Olympic Gold Medalist Skier Crashes

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Whitefish, Mont. March 22, 2001 (AP, by Tim Korte)--Bill Johnson, the 1984 Olympic downhill gold medalist, was critically injured aftercrashing during a race on Big Mountain Resort Thursday.

Johnson crashed through two gates during an FIS downhill race, just past the course's halfway point.

Race officials initially said Johnson underwent an emergency tracheotomy but later said the report couldn't be confirmed. Johnson reportedly had a breathing tube inserted.

He was taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, about 20 miles away. The hospital told Big Mountain officials that Johnson's airway was damaged but clear and he was breathing.

A ski patrol representative said Johnson also sustained a head injury but didn't have additional details. Johnson was undergoing a CT scan at the hospital, ski area officials said.

Organizers planned a news conference for later Thursday.

Johnson, 40, has tried to make a comeback this season, skiing in regional competitions in a bid to compete at the elite World Cup level. He has been considered a longshot to make next year's Olympic team.

Johnson is best known for brashly predicting victory at the Sarajevo Olympics, then winning. At the time, he was known more as a talker than a bona fide threat to win consistently.

After the Olympics, he won two more World Cup races during the 1984 season.

Johnson came to Montana to compete at the U.S. Alpine nationals, which begin Friday.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press