African American Olympians
Jill Bakken, front, and Vonetta Flowers of the United States in USA-2, brake in the finish area after the first run during the two woman bobsled final at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2002. AP Photo/Elise Amendola.
With her win at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, bobsledder Vonetta Flowers became not only the first black American to win a gold at the Winter Olympics, but the first person of African descent to ever do so. Flowers was an All-American sprinter and long jumper at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, but was unable to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. On a lark, she answered an invitation to try out for the U.S. women's bobsled team, which was competing for the first time in Salt Lake City. In two-person bobsled the rear position ("brakewoman" or "pusher") requires enormous speed, and Flowers' experience as a track star made her a natural fit. Indeed, Flowers and driver Jill Bakken were so dominant in the event that the lead after their first run, .29 seconds, made the second round of the race nearly irrelevant. Interestingly, Flowers almost didn't compete at all: bobsled drivers regularly replaced their brakewomen, and Flowers had been dropped before trials by driver Bonny Warner. She was called back by Bakken just days before the Games kicked off, sliding on to record-making gold.