Olympic fans and filmgoers at the Sundance Film Festival will get a look at the life story of Olympic downhill ski racing champion Bill Johnson this Wednesday (Jan. 26). A special preview screening of “Downhill: The Bill Johnson Story,” produced by Zeke Piestrup of The Ski Channel, will be shown at a public fundraiser with proceeds going to support Johnson, who was critically injured in a ski racing crash leading up to the 2002 Olympics. Johnson’s teammate, Olympic champion Phil Mahre, will be on hand to introduce the film.
“Downhill: The Bill Johnson Story” will be shown Wednesday (Jan. 26) at 7:00 p.m. at the Park City Community Church, 4501 Utah Highway 224, in Park City. All proceeds will go to “The Bill Johnson Special Needs Project Trust.” Johnson was injured in a downhill training crash in 2001 while trying to make a comeback for the 2002 Olympic Team. He continues to rehabilitate at a nursing home near his home in Oregon.
The film will make its official premiere Jan. 30 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in California. ( watch trailer below)
It’s the first feature for the young filmmaker Piestrup, who was inspired by Johnson’s rise to fame with the Olympic gold in 1984 and his tragic near-death experience with the traumatic crash in 2001. Johnson suffered severe head injuries in preparation for the U.S. Alpine Ski Championships at Big Mountain near Whitefish, MT. He underwent over 10 hours of complex brain surgery in nearby Kalispell, defying all odds in surviving.
Johnson went on to learn again how to speak, how to walk and how to ski. Nearly a decade later, though, the injuries continue to take their toll following a serious stroke last year.
“Downhill is the ultimate extreme sport,” said Piestrup, who was an 11-year old ski racer when Johnson won his gold. “People don’t die shinning gates, but they die racing downhill. Fear is a huge factor in the final results of a downhill race. Johnson exuded a fearlessness that made him a hero to us junior racers.”
Piestrup traces Johnson’s career in the film – the thrill of Olympic gold, the story behind his comeback attempt and its tragic outcome, and where it has led the famous downhill ski racer nearly a decade later.
“The comeback wasn’t about Bill’s success or failure on race day,” said Piestrup. “He had to turn his life around and ski racing provided the mental discipline to do so. The ski slope was a halfway house for Bill Johnson – one that could lead to a better life. Either way, this was his final chance.”
Phil Mahre grew up racing with Johnson in the Pacific Northwest and won his own Olympic gold in Sarajevo in 1984. Mahre will be on hand for the screening, providing an introduction and insights on Johnson’s current condition.
“Bill is an amazing individual and one of the greatest Olympic champions of all time,” said Harold Burbank, a former teammate who is pioneering efforts to support Bill’s medical and rehabilitation costs. “He needs our help – the help of friends and fans. Zeke’s film tells his story with great drama and I hope fans will come out to support this great Olympic champion.”
More information on the film is available at: www.downhillbill.com.
Tickets for the Park City showing are $25, with all proceeds going directly to benefit Johnson.