sliding down the murderous Olympic course at 80-miles an hour
in a fragile bobsled – faster than any other woman in the universe
– Vonetta Flowers was too hysterical to realize just how historic
her feat had been. “We did
it, we did it, we did it!” she screamed
at her partner, Jill Bakken. “I can’t believe we won!”
No one else could either. It was the first women’s bobsled competition
ever at the Olympics – but no U.S. man has as much as medaled
in the bobsled in 46 years. Plus, pre-Olympics, Flowers and Bakken
were only rated as the second-best U.S. team. Yet Flowers, a 28-year
old track standout from Alabama who’s only been in the sport for
a year and change, became the first black athlete ever to win
a gold medal in the customarily snow-white Winter Olympic Games.
am so blessed to be here,” she said. “To win a gold medal for
your country is simply awesome. Hopefully this will encourage
other African American boys and girls to give winter sports a
try. You don’t see too many of them out there.”
Flowers herself was only “out there” by pure coincidence. After
finishing 12th in the long jump in the 2000 U.S Olympic
Trials in Sacramento, her husband Johnny persuaded her to attend
a nearby bobsled tryout as a lark. First she almost lost her lunch.
“No one told me about the G-force,” she laughed. But quickly,
she proved herself faster and stronger than any other brake-woman
in the world.
Still, she was the long-shot to end all long-shots. “The only
thing I knew about the Winter Olympics was the movie “Cool
Runnings”, said Flowers. “You know, the one about the no-chance
Jamaican bobsled team. And, of course, Debi Thomas was one of
Thomas was the first black athlete to win
a medal at the Winter Games, a figure skating bronze in Calgary
in 1988. Minority participation did not markedly increase after
hope to change that with a number of creative programs,” U.S.
Olympic spokesman Mike Moran said. Flowers, a personable champion
with both charisma and modesty, will spearhead the historic effort.”#
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