Feb. 19, 2002
Race Photo Gallery | Medal Ceremony Photo Gallery
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) - No one had really given Jill Bakken and Vonetta
Flowers a chance. They weren't even supposed to be the best U.S. team.
"A lot of people saw us as the 'other' team," Flowers said. "We came here
to prove people wrong."
That they did, winning the inaugural women's bobsled Tuesday night by
beating the favored Germans and the much-hyped Jean Racine in the other
The victory by USA-2 ended a 46-year drought for the United States. America
had not won an Olympic bobsled medal since Arthur Tyler took the four-man
bronze in 1956 and had not won gold since his brother, Francis, won the
four-man in 1948.
There was also an Olympic landmark: the 28-year-old Flowers became the first
black athlete ever to win a gold medal at a Winter Games.
"Hopefully, this will encourage other African-American boys and girls to
give winter sports a try because you don't see too many of them out there,"
The former college track star once had other Olympic dreams, but two knee
operations and ankle surgery dashed those hopes.
"I have truly been blessed to come into this sport and pick it up so
fast," said Flowers said, unable to stop crying. "My goal was to make the
Summer Olympics. God had a different plan for me."
Sandra Prokoff and Ulrike Holzner won the silver in Germany-1 while
compatriots Susi Erdmann and Nicole Herschmann took the bronze. Racine and Gea
Johnson finished fifth.
"I think I'm going to be looking back at this for a long time," Racine
In December, Bakken and Racine faced the same quandary: Both needed a new
brakewoman to push their sleds.
Racine dumped her best friend and chose Johnson, a muscular former
heptathlete from Arizona, Bakken took Flowers, who once ran track at UAB and
didn't try bobsledding until after she failed to qualify for the U.S. team
headed for the 2000 Summer Olympics.
"I don't even know what to feel," Bakken said. "It's amazing."
Even more amazing were the 11th-hour antics of Racine after Johnson injured
her left hamstring Saturday night. After the race, Racine said she had asked
Flowers over the weekend to consider changing sleds. Flowers declined.
The race was gripping from the start. Dressed in matching bodysuits, Bakken
and Flowers stood behind their bright red bobsled ready to begin their push to
They seemed to forget the two German teams had won every World Cup race in
the 2001-02 season. Standing in the start house, they stared through the visors
of their black helmets and pounded each other's fists.
They flew down the track twice at 80 mph, winning with a two-run time of 1
minute, 37.76 seconds. Prokoff and Holzner were second in 1:38.06, with Erdmann
and Herschmann at 1:38.29.
Racine and Johnson were timed in 1:38.73. Johnson was in severe pain and
crying as she hobbled off the track.
"America was on the podium today, and that was the goal," a tearful Racine
said. "We didn't win, but America did."
Racine had been picked as America's hope, but arrived at the Olympics in
disarray. After dominating the World Cup tour for two years with best friend
Jen Davidson, she suddenly was unable to win.
She created a stir by replacing Davidson with Johnson, who once served a
four-year suspension after testing positive for anabolic steroids. Davidson
protested but withdrew her complaint in January shortly after the start of an
arbitration hearing. Their friendship, however, was over.
The decision to switch teammates - common among the men - was prompted by
the success of the German teams, both featuring big drivers.
Prokoff and Holzner broke the track push record on their first run with a
time of 5.32 seconds. Undaunted, Flowers helped propel USA-2 to a 5.31 start
That gave the Americans an edge, and Bakken, who lives in Park City, showed
her savvy on a track on which she has made hundreds of runs.
She avoided the mistakes that plagued Prokoff on the lower portion of the
16-turn course, gaining a significant lead of 0.29 seconds.
"I didn't want to count anyone out," Bakken said. "I knew we had a good
lead, but it didn't matter. Any one of the other teams could have had a great
After the first run, the Americans were all hugs and smiles. Two coaches
joined in and scores of fans, including Bakken's mother, screamed
In their second run, Prokoff and Holzner broke the start record again and
finished in 48.96, putting the pressure on Bakken and Flowers.
Tension built before their second run, the last of the night. Bakken, with a
history of struggling to put together two good runs, came back with a time of
48.95 seconds, 0.30 ahead of Prokoff and Holzner.
With a capacity crowd of 15,000 roaring, the finish line became a scene of
"I don't see very well," Bakken said. "I didn't know we had won until we
got close to the timing clock."
As Racine watched history unfold without her, Bakken celebrated and her
"I'm so happy," Flowers said. "I never thought I would be here."
By The Associated Press
At Park City, Utah
1, United States 2 (Jill Bakken, Park City, Utah, Vonetta Flowers, Helena, Ala.), 1:37.76.
2, Germany 1 (Sandra Prokoff, Ulrike Holzner), 1:38.06.
3, Germany 2 (Susi-Lisa Erdmann, Nicole Herschmann), 1:38.29.
4, Switzerland 1 (Francoise Burdet, Katharina Sutter), 1:38.34.
5, United States 1 (Jean Racine, Waterford, Mich., Gea Johnson, Phoenix), 1:38.73.
6, Netherlands 1 (Eline Jurg, Nannet Kiemel), 1:39.18.
7, Italy 1 (Gerda Weissensteiner, Antonella Bellutti), 1:39.21.
8, Russia 1 (Victoria Tokovaia, Kristina Bader), 1:39.27.
9, Canada 1 (Christina Smith, Paula McKenzie), 1:39.35.
10, Netherlands 2 (Ilse Broeders, Jeanette Pennings), 1:39.37.
11, Britain 2 (Michelle Coy, Jackie Davies), 1:39.55.
12, Britain 1 (Cheryl Done, Nicola Gautier), 1:39.89.
13, Hungary 1 (Ildiko Strehli, Eva Kurti), 1:39.91.
14, Sweden 1 (Karin Olsson, Lina Engren), 1:40.30.
15, Romania 1 (Erika Kovacs, Maria Spirescu), 1:40.74.