Jill Bakken and Alabama's Vonetta Flowers set their goal for the gold medal and they shocked the Germans and a favored American team to give the United States its first gold medal in bobsled in 54 years. This was the first Olympics for women's bobsled and Vonetta Flowers is the first African-American to earn a gold medal in the Winter Olympics.
Bakken and Flowers set a track record of 48.81 seconds on their first run and followed that up with a time of 48.95 seconds on their second run. Their total time of 1 minute, 37.76 seconds was 30/100ths of a second better than the German duo of Sandra Prokoff and Ulrike Holzner.
Prokoff set a push record of 5.29 seconds in the next to last run, putting the pressure on Bakken and Flowers in USA's No. 2 sled. Flowers had a push time of 5.33 seconds to nearly offset the Germans.
Team Germany members Susi-Lisa Erdmann and Nicole Herschmann were third, 53/100ths of a second behind the winners. The American team of Jean Racine and Gea Johnson finished fifth.
Alabama is not known as a great nurturing ground for Winter Olympic Athletes. Alabamians traditionally like hot weather, the beach, swimming - the typical things that go along with the Summer Olympics.
So how does a track athlete whose track career is winding down, end up on the U.S. Winter Olympic team?
Vonetta Flowers has been running since the age of nine. A superb athlete at Jackson-Olin High School in Brimingham, Flowers also earned honors as an All-State basketball players. Her track talents earned her a scholarship to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where she won conference titles in the long jump, triple jump, 100 and 200 meters. She was a seven-time NCAA All-American and six-time conference MVP. Flowers earned her bachelor's degree in 1997.
While not preparing for her unique Olympic challenge, Vonetta Flowers is an assistant track coach with the University of Alabama - Birmingham. With all her talents you would expect Vonetta Flowers to be a candidate for the Summer Olympic team, but the Winter Olympics?
It started by chance. Though plagued by injuries, Flowers decided to make another attempt at the Summer Olympic team. While competing at the 2000 Olympic Track and Field trials, Vonetta's husband, Johnny Flowers,saw a flyer asking track and field athletes to try out for the bobsled team. Vonetta and her husband, decided it was worth a shot.
The first test included sprinting, jumping, and throwing a shot put. Bonny Warner, a bobsled driver, was looking for speed and strength to get the sled and team off to that crucial fast start in an event where fractions of a second can mean be the difference in a team's earning a medal or finishing way down in the standings. Warner has written, "a good driver needs a good brakeman, or she will never win - and vice-versa,"
Vonetta passed those tests with flying colors and earned herself a trial on the bobsled track. "In an interview with a Salt Lake City radio station, Vonetta recalls how quickly things went. "Bonny invited those of us who scored well to go to Germany - it was the only place at that time of year with ice - to learn how to push the bobsled. A month after that, we went to the national team trials in Park City, Utah, and we finished second."
Vonetta says the event is not the most difficult part of being a bobsledder. "I never, ever thought I would be doing a Winter sport. The hardest thing to get accustomed to, really, is just how cold it is. I don't know if I'll ever get completely comfortable with that."
The pair went on to win 4 World Cup medals and finished 2000 ranked third in the world. At the 2001 Women's Bobsled World Cup, they won the silver medal just 0.01 of a second behind another U.S. team. Having discovered the areas she needed to work on, Flowers spent the spring and summer working on her strength.