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Timberline Lodge, Ore. (AP by Landon Hall)–Bill Johnson returned to the slopes Friday, skiing down Mount Hood just eight months after a frightening crash left the 1984 Olympic downhill champion in a coma with a brain injury.
“It felt great. I turned a lot,” Johnson said after a warmup run.
He was especially pleased that he stayed upright on his skis.
“I didn’t take a digger, and I’m not about to,” he said.
Johnson did take a spill at slow speed during a longer run later in the day, but he got right back up, said coach and friend John Creel, who went with him.
“I tried to help him up, but he would have none of it,” Creel said Friday night. “He wanted to help himself up.”
Johnson has made quite a recovery since that day in March when _ at age 41, 11 years removed from competition _ Johnson fell face-first after his legs separated and he tumbled into two restraining nets during a race ahead of the U.S. Alpine Championships.
Johnson was unconscious when ski patrol medics and a race doctor arrived to treat him at Big Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont. He was in a coma for three weeks.
Johnson sustained severe head trauma, and needed a breathing tube on the mountain and a tracheotomy at the hospital. He bit his tongue during the crash, and it partially blocked his airway and bled into his left lung.
After recuperating in California, at the Centre for Neuro Skills, Johnson went to Oregon so his family could care for him. He has been at his mother’s house in Gresham, not far from Mount Hood.
Creel, Johnson’s coach before the crash, is now helping him with physical conditioning. He works with Johnson about once a week, and was urging him along at the mountain on Friday.
“That’s amazing,” Creel said after watching Johnson take a couple of quick tight turns on a warmup slope outside Timberline Lodge and snowplow to the bottom.
As heavy snow fell, Johnson was thrilled to be back on skis.
“The snow looks great,” he said. “It’s nice out here. It’s so sweet.”
Creel said his workout sessions with Johnson were “getting too mundane” for the Olympic champion.
“So we had to get him out here and give him a reason to keep doing stuff that’s not fun,” Creel said.
Creel said Johnson wanted to do a couple of more runs after lunch, but Creel told him, “We’re going to quit while we’re ahead.”
“While we were on the chair I said, ‘I’m proud of you,”’ Creel said. “He’s worked so hard.”
Johnson was 23 at the Sarajevo Olympics, when he brashly predicted victory _ then went out and won the first downhill gold medal by an American. He wound up winning three World Cup races in 1984, but he failed to qualify for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, and was out of the public eye before his comeback try this year.
After showing up at Timberline Lodge on Friday, Johnson and Creel waxed their skis.
“We don’t want to go real fast,” Creel told Johnson. “It’s slippery out there.”
Johnson then took off down the warmup slope _ gingerly, but looking confident.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press