Olympic Valley, Calif. March 18, 2002 (AP by Rob Gloster)--Bill Johnson still hates to lose.
Less than a year after nearly dying in a skiing accident, Johnson competed in a pseudo-competitive race for the first time Saturday during an old-timers event at the U.S. Alpine Championships.
His speech remains slurred, and there's still weakness on the right side of his body. That's not surprising for a 41-year-old man who was in a coma for three weeks after an accident that severely damaged his brain.
He skied gingerly during the Return of the Champions event Saturday that featured several former U.S. Olympians. He complained later that he took it too easy on his competitors in the dual slalom races.
That's not to say Johnson is forgetting how far he's come.
``It's really great for me to be here,'' he said. ``I was barely alive a year ago, and now I'm at the U.S. championships.''
It was at the national championships last year that Johnson tumbled in a downhill while trying to make an unlikely comeback to the U.S. team. He was hoping to compete in the Salt Lake City Games, 18 years after becoming the first U.S. man to win gold in the Olympic downhill.
It was on March 22, 2001, that he crashed in Whitefish, Mont., falling into two restraining nets and suffering severe head trauma. He needed surgery to repair his tongue, which he nearly bit through.
After months of rehab, he returned to skis last fall and proudly reports that he has skied 17 times this year. He made it to the Salt Lake City Games, but only as a torchbearer during the opening ceremony.
And he plans to return to Montana next weekend to ski at the Big Mountain Resort where he was critically injured a year before.
The man who brashly predicted victory at the 1984 Sarajevo Games, then improbably backed it up, remains as feisty as ever. He has given up formal rehabilitation, he said, because it's too easy.
``I don't go to workouts because they line me up with a bunch of women (therapists),'' he said. ``That's good for an old guy, but not for me.''
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