As the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver continue to captivate the nation, ‘This Day in Black Sports History’, a 28-day retrospective commemorating Black History Month 2010, rewinds the clock eight years to the Games of the XIX Winter Olympiad in Salt Lake City, Utah; when on February 19, 2002 history was made by a woman of faith.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Vonetta Flowers dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal as a track star since the tender age of nine.
Described by her coach at Jonesboro Elementary School as “one in a million” and a little girl with exceptional talent and a heart of gold, a determined Flowers would win virtually every race she entered for the next 10 years.
Upon graduation from P.D. Jackson Olin High School in 1992, Flowers accepted a Track & Field scholarship to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she became the most decorated athlete in the history of the institution.
However, after qualifying for the Olympic Trials in 1996 and 2000, Flowers’ hopes for Olympic glory were dashed when she failed to earn a spot on the 1996 team and injuries derailed her aspirations of making the 2000 team.
Her disappointing performance at the 2000 Trials prompted Flowers to give up on those childhood dreams of winning Olympic gold and focus on starting a family with her husband.
Two short days after the Trials though, Flowers’ husband brought a flyer to her attention urging track & field athletes to try out for the United States bobsled team.
Without knowing a thing about bobsledding except what they gleaned from the movie ‘Cool Runnings’, Flowers, who was still learning to cope with the reality of failed Olympic dreams, and her husband, who had also been a prominent track & field athlete, tried out for the team.
And even though a hamstring injury sidelined her husband during the tryouts, Flowers agreed to live out his dream by completing the competition.
Less than 2 months after filling in for her husband, Flowers was competing for the United States in bobsledding and, by the end of her rookie season, Flowers and her former teammate, Bonny Warner, were the 2nd ranked tandem in the country and 3rd in the entire world.
Just one year later, Flowers and her new teammate, Jill Bakken, won the gold medal at the inaugural Women’s Olympic bobsled event in the Salt Lake City Games, which was the first medal for a United States bobsled team in 46 years.
More importantly though, Flowers became the first African-American to win a gold medal in the history of the Winter Olympics.
And after her path to Olympic gold took Flowers from the asphalt track, where she had always dreamed of emerging triumphant, to a track made of ice and snow, where the only exposure she had to the sport prior to competing was from a film, Flowers gave credit for her history-making performance to where credit was rightfully due.
“God has blessed my family. I give Him the glory and honor.”
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass
Click here to watch Vonetta Flowers talk about her success in Olympic bobsledding.
Click here to read the Wikipedia article on Vonetta Flowers.