[SPORTS ★★★]


Bill Johnson

(P1) Bill Johnson, who has died aged 55, became the first male American SKIER to win Olympic gold in an ALPINE event; but his career, his family, and his life IMPLODED and in 2002 he ended up in a COMA in a Montana hospital after attempting a COMEBACK at the age of 40.

(P2) Johnson, a COCKY 23-year-old, was DISMISSED at first by the European skiers. As training began for the Olympic men’s downhill, Johnson boasted: “I am going to win the gold medal”, later adding: “I don’t even know why everyone else is here. Everyone else can fight for second.”

(P3) To the CONSTERNATION of his RIVALS, Johnson dominated in the training runs, and on race day he won the downhill in 1:45.59. The Swiss star Peter Mueller was 0.27 of a second behind in second place.

(P4) The gold medal turned Johnson into America’s newest Olympic hero. Asked what the downhill gold medal was worth to him, Johnson replied: “Millions!”

(P5) But Johnson’s life after the Olympics was a disappointment.

(P6) William Dean Johnson was born in Canoga Park, Los Angeles, on March 30, 1960, and brought up at Boise, Idaho, learning to ski at the age of seven.

(P7) A TROUBLED youth, Johnson often found himself in CONFRONTATIONS with the law. A SYMPATHETIC judge gave him a choice between six months in jail or attending the Mission Ridge ski academy in Washington state. He chose the LATTER.

(P8) His talent in the downhill event EVENTUALLY landed him a spot on the US Ski Team.

(P9) Johnson made his World Cup DEBUT in February 1983, finishing sixth in the downhill at St Anton, Austria. After the Olympics and two more World Cup downhill victories in March 1984, Johnson was at the top of his sport.

(P10) But then it all started to go wrong. His BRASHNESS made him unpopular with spectators and competitors; there were NAGGING injuries, and he had never enjoyed training. After the 1984 season, his best results were two seventh place finishes in January 1985 and March 1986. He retired after the 1990 season, aged 29.

(P11) In 1987 Johnson married Gina Ricci, with whom he had three sons, but in 1992 tragedy struck when their youngest son, Ryan, drowned. By 1999 his marriage had ended in divorce and Johnson was BANKRUPT.

(P12) In 2001 he announced his intention of making a comeback in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But he was now very old for competitive skiing.

(P13) He started his comeback at the bottom of the rankings, but began to move up.

(P14) During Johnson’s downhill training runs for the 2001 US Alpine Championships, his friend John Creel warned him about the TREACHEROUS last turn on the course. “Take it slowly,” he told Johnson.

(P15) But Johnson skied it FLAT-OUT at more than 50 mph, caught the inside edge of his right ski, lost his balance, crashed face-first into the ice-hard snow, and burst through two layers of protective netting before finally slamming into a fence.

(P16) Johnson had suffered serious injuries to his brain, nearly bitten off his tongue, and was in a coma for three weeks. Doctors performed emergency surgery but doubted that he would survive.

(P17) He did survive, but within a few years his health began to fail again. He suffered a series of small STROKES, followed by a major stroke in 2010, after which he was moved into a long-term care facility.

(P18) Two sons survive him.

(P19) Bill Johnson, born March 30 1960, died January 21 2016

WORDS: 582



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Why do so many successful people have tragic lives?
  3. Why did people dislike Bill Johnson’s personality?
  4. Are winter sports such as skiing popular in your country?
  5. Do you plan to watch the 2016 Olympics this summer?
  6. This article is a good example of an OBITUARY. Do you ever read the obituaries in the newspaper?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Flat-out

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