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'84 olympic downhill champion johnson dies at 55

Bill Johnson craved speed — the faster, the better. He stole cars as a kid, got in trouble for it and was ordered by a judge to make a choice: ski school or jail.

He picked the slopes and wound up taking the sport by storm.

The brash skier had movie-star looks and a personality to match. He won legions of fans by backing up his braggadocio and becoming the first American to capture the Olympic downhill title in 1984. Mr. Johnson died after a long illness Thursday at age 55.

He died at an assisted living facility in Gresham, Ore., where he had been staying since a major stroke a few years ago steadily took away the use of most of his body.

Mr. Johnson lived life on the edge, with a swagger and a rebellious attitude that instantly made him a favorite among fans. So sure of himself on the slopes, Mr. Johnson won Olympic gold in 1984 after telling everyone he would.

He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated after that victory, a shot of him flying through the air in a perfect tuck position, his gaze intently focused down the race course, and the caption reading, "Flat out for Glory."

Mr. Johnson had a tattoo on his arm that read, "Ski to die."

"Bill Johnson was cut from a different cloth," American skiing great Phil Mahre said in a statement. "Billy was a fighter and went about things his way. That toughness allowed him to reach heights in the skiing world that few will ever accomplish."

In 2001, Mr. Johnson attempted to recapture his glory days and made a comeback at the U.S. championships at age 40, hoping to earn a spot on the 2002 Olympic team. But he wiped out during a practice run and suffered a traumatic brain injury that erased nearly a decade of memories. He also had to relearn how to walk, talk and eat again.

Over the years, he gradually improved and even returned to the slopes for recreational skiing. Then, in June 2010, Mr. Johnson had a stroke. Little by little his body weakened, leaving him with only the use of his left hand.


Rays add to pool of outfield backups

The Rays added a candidate for a backup outfield spot Friday in signing Jaff Decker to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. Decker, 25, is a lefty hitter who can play all three positions. He has played 41 big-league games over the past three seasons with the Padres and Pirates, hitting .169. He has spent most of the past three seasons at Triple-A.

The Rays look set with an outfield of Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr., and Brandon Guyer as the top reserve. New acquisitions Logan Morrison (a lefty hitter) and Steve Pearce (a righty) can also play the outfield.

The Rays have 62 players invited to spring training, which begins Feb. 21 in Port Charlotte.

Twins: RHP Kevin Jepsen and the team avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $5.3 million. Jepsen gets a raise of more than $2 million from last year.

et cetera

Sailing: Amway president Doug DeVos and his Quantam Racing crew won the IRC 1 class at the Key West Race Week regatta off the Florida Keys. Bad weather forced officials to cancel IRC 1 and several other class races, but DeVos had built a half-point lead over Steve Benjamin's Spookie in earlier races during the five-day regatta.

Soccer: Mexico's Javier Hernandez and American World Cup star Carli Lloyd were named CONCACAF players of the year for 2015. Goalkeeper of the year honors went to Americans Tim Howard and Hope Solo. Panama's Hernan Dario Gomez and the United States' Jill Ellis won coach of the year.

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer; Times wires

Sports in brief 01/22/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2016 10:23pm]
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