On This Date in Sports February 16, 1984: Golden Bill

Bill Johnson becomes the first American Man to win a Gold Medal in Alpine Skiing at the games in Sarajevo. Johnson is the first to win an Olympic Downhill Race without being from an Alpine Country, as France and Austria have traditionally dominated the event. Johnson was one of three Americans to take home Alpine Gold, as Debbie Armstrong won the Women’s Giant Slalom, while Phil Mahre won the Men’s Slalom.

Bill Johnson was born on March 30, 1960, in Los Angeles. After his family moved to Idaho when he was seven, Johnson learned to Ski in the Bogus Basin. A troubled youth, Bill Johnson began skiing competitively to harness his energy and to stay out of trouble. After facing criminal charges as a juvenile at the age of 17, Bill Johnson joined the Mission Ridge Ski Academy in lieu of jail. Often called the bad boy of skiing, Johnson earned a spot on the United States Ski Team in 1983, finishing sixth in the Downhill in St. Anton, Austria.


Heading into the Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, Bill Johnson picked up the type of momentum that was helpful for all skiers as he became the first American to win a World Cup event at the famed Lauberhorn in Switzerland. This prompted a brash Bill Johnson to predict that he would win Gold in the Olympics.

Poor weather conditions in Sarajevo put Bill Johnson’s run for glory on hold as the Downhill was delayed an entire week. Johnson’s quest had one major obstacle removed as reigning World Champion Leonhard Stock of Austria was injured and unable to compete. Three days before the rescheduled men’s race was run, the Americans got a boost as Debbie Armstrong became the first American Woman to win a Skiing Gold Medal in a dozen years.

For the Downhill, 61 competitors from 25 nations started at the top of the mountain. The course was recently reconstructed to accommodate the required 800-meter drop for an Olympic Downhill event. After a shaky start, Bill Johnson, who was strong at the bottom of the hill, posted a time of 1:45.59. The time was good enough to win the Gold Medal; previously, no American Male had ever finished higher than fifth in the Downhill at the Winter Olympics. Peter Muller of Switzerland finished with the Silver Medal .27 behind Johnson, while Anton Steiner of Austria won the Bronze.