WOA Mourns Passing of Olympic Legends

31 | 1 | 2016

The WOA joins the Olympic Movement in mourning the passing of Olympians Leonid Zhabotinsky and Bill Johnson.

Both pioneers in their disciplines, Zhabotinsky a record-breaking weightlifter, who represented the Soviet Union at two Olympic Games, and Johnson, the first American man to win Olympic gold in Alpine Skiing, passed away this month.

At nearly 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing as much as 365 pounds, Ukrainian-born Zhabotinsky was renowned around the world for his strength and even counted a young Arnold Schwarzenegger amongst his fans.

He picked up his first Olympic Gold medal at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games and his second four years later in Mexico City, where he amazed and delighted crowds with his ability to carry the Soviet Flag single-handed during the Opening Ceremony, when all other flag bearers needed both hands. 

Ukrainian NOC President, Sergey Bubka, said:

“Leonid was a national hero and an inspiration for anyone who was fortunate enough to see him compete. Our thoughts go out to his family at this sad time and we know his legacy will live on through his sons and through the hundreds of weightlifters he coached during the past three decades.”

The International Weightlifting Federation said in a statement, which was reported on WOA Media Partner, Around the Rings:
"The Ukrainian giant, four-times world champion and holder of 19 world records, was rightly called in his time 'The Strongest Man of the World,'" the IWF said.
"A role model to the young, he was not only talented but also a hard worker that enabled him to reach the peak of any weightlifter's career twice."

Zhabotinsky is survived by his wife, Raisa, and sons Rusian and Vilen, both of whom are weightlifters.

Bill Johnson, who passed away last week at the age of 55 after a prolonged illness, was renowned as a trailblazer in his sport, following his dazzling display at the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo where he won the men’s downhill. 

However, his career was cut short by a horrific crash as he attempted to make a comeback for the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

Members of the Olympic Movement have come out in force on social media expressing their admiration for the skier.

The U.S.A. Olympic Team described him as “an inspiration and pioneer, Bill Johnson showed America what "perseverance" means.”

Four-time Canadian Olympic skier Brian Stemmle said he was “sad to hear Olympic champion Bill Johnson died.”

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper shared a fond memory of Johnson’s most famous race: “I was at Sarajevo '84 when the American told all he would win..and so he did.” 

While US Lindsey Vonn, 2010 women's Olympic downhill champion offered a simple,"#RIP Bill."

In a statement on the US Ski Team website, US Ski Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw said: "[Bill] established a benchmark for downhill ski racing in America and motivated generations of downhillers to come."

Speaking of both Zhabotinsky and Johnson WOA President, Joël Bouzou, said:

“We were saddened to hear of the passing of Olympic legends Leonid Zhabotinsky and Bill Johnson. Everyone who knew Leonid was touched by his passion for sport and his incredible prowess as an athlete. He was an icon for many both within the Olympic Movement and the wider sport community.

“Bill was an enigmatic skier whose unmistakable brilliance in Sarajevo left an indelible mark on a generation of US ski racers. That his career was cut short by injury was a tragedy but while he competed, he inspired many with his ‘never give up’ attitude. We would like to share our condolences with the families of both Olympians.”