CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Bill Johnson proved beyond doubt that he is the 10th-fastest downhill skier in America Thursday.
Unfortunately for the 1984 Olympic champion, this did nothing to support his contention that he should have been named to the 1988 U.S. team, which will compete at Calgary starting a week from Saturday.
The winner here in the first race of the National Alpine Championships, a kind of winter carnival that excludes those mean old spoilsports from Europe, was Jeff Olson of Bozeman, Mont., who was one of the four downhillers selected for the Olympic team Wednesday.
Olson, who was timed in 1:25.31, happens to be the No. 1 American in this event. Internationally, he is tied for 34th place in the World Cup downhill standings--which tends to put everything in perspective.
Two of the other three Olympians also finished ahead of Johnson. Bill Hudson of Olympic Valley, Calif., was third, 1.03 seconds behind Olson, and A.J. Kitt of Rochester, N.Y., was sixth.
Johnson, who was 2.14 seconds in back of the winner, expressed surprise after crossing the finish line.
"I thought I was having a good run," he said. "I had a little trouble in the bumps but no major complications. Both legs were turning well. I really wanted to go out and win this race.
"It's definitely a letdown. I gave it all I had, and it was the best run I've had all week. My back felt fine. It only bothered me in Wednesday's final training run and that was because I overexerted the day before when I closed the ski area."
Johnson, 27, the former Van Nuys and Malibu resident who now lives in Troutdale, Ore., said his absence from the Calgary Games should put pressure on the International Olympic Committee to allow all defending gold medalists at least a chance to qualify in some fashion when they lack the points to meet national team guidelines.
"They should hold qualifying trials and let the 50 fastest racers in the world enter the downhill," said Johnson, who missed most of last season while recovering from both knee and back surgery. "Instead, they'll listen to some guy who lives in Denver say he's really from Santiago and allow him to compete as the Chilean Olympic team."
Johnson said he feels strong and is looking forward to the post-Olympic World Cup downhills at Whistler Mountain, Canada, and Vail, Colo.
"It's taken longer than I thought it would to come back," he said. "I figured I could ski my way back into shape, but there wasn't much snow in Europe, and I missed a lot of training time in December because of it."
As for Calgary, Johnson said he hopes to be there, representing his equipment suppliers, and may do some commentary for ABC-TV. "That might be the only way they'll let me into the Games," he said.
Harald Schoenhaar, director of the U.S. Alpine program, greeted Thursday's results with the remark: "I believe we made the right decision."
Told that Johnson, who follows his own training regimen and has little contact with the coaching staff, wants to race again next winter, Schoenhaar said: "Good!"
To do this, Schoenhaar said, "Billy has to make at least the 'B' team by ranking among the top 45 in the world. Then, we'll be happy to have him back."
Schoenhaar said he had to name the Olympic team before Thursday's race because the U.S. Olympic Committee had set a Feb. 3 deadline in all sports.
Affected even more than Johnson by this time limit was Mike Brown of Vail, who finished second here in 1:25.83.
Brown, who missed three weeks of competition in Europe last month after breaking his left wrist at Val d'Isere, France, was ranked No. 5 in downhill--and off the Olympic team--before the race.
He obviously has moved up, but too late.
"Why do they suddenly have to solidify the top four on Wednesday?" Brown asked. "What's one more day? The Canadians are using their national championships to select their Olympic team, and they don't start until tomorrow. It's an interesting scenario they had here.
"Of course, I'm bitter, but I'm not going to let it ruin my life. Life is full of disappointments."
The fourth Olympic downhiller is Doug Lewis, the bronze medalist in the 1985 World Championships, who has shown that he is ready to go to Calgary despite breaking his collarbone Jan. 8. Lewis, of Burlington, Vt., has been working out on his own. He ranks among the top four on the basis of results last season and before his injury this winter.
The women's downhill Thursday was won, as expected, by Pam Fletcher of Acton, Mass., in 1:22.05 on a shorter course than the men's. Another Olympian, Hilary Lindh of Juneau, Alaska, was second in 1:23.71, followed by Chantal Knapp of Underhill Center, Vt., in 1:23.82. Knapp was not named to the Olympic team.
Olympian Kristin Krone of Truckee, Calif., finished eighth, 3.10 seconds behind Fletcher, while Olympian Edith Thys of Olympic Valley, Calif., fell but was uninjured.