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In 1984 Bill Johnson seemed invincible. The upstart racer from Southern California became the first American man to win a World Cup downhill (followed by two more that season), then captured Olympic gold at Sarajevo after predicting his own victory. In 2000, after a decade of retirement, Johnson resurfaced, announcing a comeback bid for the 2002 Winter Games.
But on March 22, he was far from invincible. Johnson suffered near-fatal head injuries after slamming face first into the snow in a difficult section of the course at the Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships at Montana’s Big Mountain. He was airlifted to nearby Kalispell Regional Medical Center and immediately underwent four hours of surgery to treat brain swelling and lacerations to his tongue (he also had injuries to his arms and legs).
In mid April, Johnson, 41, was transferred to a medical facility in Portland, Oregon, where he emerged from his coma. Remarkably, two months after the crash, he was not only alert but was again making predictions: “I will ski again,” he said at a press conference. In early June, he moved to The Center for Neurological Skills in Bakersfield, California, where he’s expected to undergo physical and cognitive rehabilitation through early next year.
Coincidentally, the day after Johnson’s crash, another racer known for his fearlessness, former Canadian Ski Teamer and original Crazy Canuck Dave Irwin, 46, took a headfirst fall in a skiercross at Sunshine Village, Alberta. He, too, went into a coma and faces months of recovery.