February 16

This Day in History

Also on This Day

Lead Story
Archaeologist opens tomb of King Tut, 1923
American Revolution
John Adams prepares to sail for France, 1778
Jeff Gordon becomes youngest Daytona winner, 1997
Civil War
Yankees capture Tennessee's Fort Donelson, 1862
Cold War
Joseph Stalin attacks the United Nations, 1951
John Wesley Hardin is pardoned, 1894
Brush fires ravage South Australia, 1983
General Interest
The most daring act of the age, 1804
Castro sworn in, 1959
David O. Selznick returns to MGM, 1933
Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford is born, 1944
Chopin plays his final Paris concert, 1848
Old West
Silver dollars made legal, 1878
James Monroe marries Elizabeth Kortright, 1786
Bill Johnson becomes first American to win Olympic gold in downhill skiing, 1984
Vietnam War
Tet Offensive results in many new refugees, 1968
World War I
Russians capture Erzerum, 1916
World War II
Bataan recaptured, 1945


Feb 16, 1984:

Bill Johnson becomes first American to win Olympic gold in downhill skiing

On February 16, 1984, Bill Johnson becomes the first American man to win an Olympic gold medal in downhill skiing, a sport long dominated by European athletes. Johnson quickly became a national hero, though his fame was short-lived, and he never again competed in the Olympics.

William Dean Johnson was born March 30, 1960, and grew up in a working-class family in Oregon. He was frequently in trouble as a child and was once was arrested for stealing a car. In January 1984, the little-known Johnson, then 23, became the first American man to win a World Cup downhill race, at Wengen, Switzerland, and he boldly predicted he would take home a gold medal the following month at the Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

To the amazement of the skiing world, the prediction came true on February 16, 1984, when he finished the men’s downhill with a time 1:45:59 and beat Switzerland’s Peter Muller, a favorite to win the race, by .27 seconds. Johnson won two more World Cup races that season. However, his newfound fame seemed to go to his head and his brash, cocky personality alienated many in the ski community. Additionally, Johnson lived a lavish, hard-partying lifestyle and stopped winning races. In 1988, he was left off the U.S. ski team for the Olympic Games in Calgary.

At age 40, Johnson attempted to stage a comeback and qualify for the U.S. ski team for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. However, in March 2001, he suffered a devastating crash at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Big Mountain Resort near Whitefish, Montana. The crash put him in a coma for several weeks and left him with brain damage.

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