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Johnson Returns to Scene of Wreck

March 22, 2002

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WHITEFISH, Mont. (AP) _ With a smile across his face and his mother at his side, former Olympic champion Bill Johnson skied Friday down the slope where he almost died exactly one year ago during a comeback attempt.

Johnson, who sustained brain injuries that might never heal, started gingerly, pointing his skis downhill and slowly letting gravity take over. Soon, he was skiing all out through a layer of fresh powder, leaving his mother, DB Johnson, and a string of reporters in his tracks.

``You’re skiing very fast,″ DB Johnson told her son as she finally caught up to him.

``Thanks,″ he answered. ``You’re skiing very slow.″

For the first time since that horrific crash last March 22, Johnson said very sketchy memories of the hill were returning.

``I don’t remember the race at all,″ he said as he looked down the slope at Big Mountain Resort. ``I just remember the hill. It’s very familiar to me.″

Johnson, 41, crashed during a preliminary race at the U.S. Alpine Championships, sustaining severe brain injuries and nearly biting off his tongue after losing his balance and ripping through two safety fences.

He was in a coma for three weeks and still has large gaps in his memory, weakness on the right side of his body and slurred speech.

An Olympian who brashly _ and correctly _ predicted victory at the 1984 Sarajevo Games in the downhill, Johnson was attempting a long-shot comeback. He had hoped to claim a spot on the national team for the Salt Lake City Games.

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