Soccer Mum Ready For Torino

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: December 12, 2005

NEW YORK, NY—After her stirring gold-medal triumph in the Salt Lake City Games, Vonetta Flowers was ready to bow out of bobsleigh, start a family and prepare for life as a “soccer mum”.

“The plan was to get pregnant after the Olympics and be done with bobsleigh,” the American said.

Flowers, the first athlete of African descent to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, got pregnant – with twins – but something inside her head said the time was not right to quit.

“As an athlete, you love to compete,” she said. “You start missing the competition.”

So, with her husband and two young children with her each step of the way, the five-foot seven-inch (1.70-metre), 155-pound (70-kg) Flowers is back in the hunt for another gold medal at the Turin Winter Games in February.

“Winning the gold medal was an amazing feeling and I want it again,” the 32-year-old brakeman told a recent media summit for the US Olympic team.

Flowers and new team mate Jean Prahm took a giant leap towards winning a spot on the US Olympic team, sparkling at the two-woman World Cup race in Lake Placid, NY, last month. The pair tied Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis and Anja Schneiderheinze for the top spot in the two-heat competition.

On Saturday, they finished fourth in a World Cup event in Igls, Austria.

Winning the gold medal in Italy next year would mean just as much to Flowers as her magnificent moment in Salt Lake, where she emerged from a position as outsider to the highest perch on sport’s grandest stage, taking the two-woman title with Jill Bakken.

Flowers said an encore gold “won’t be just my medal. It will also belong to my two boys and my husband”.

The Birmingham, Alabama, native gave birth to the twins on Aug. 30, 2002, three months prematurely. Jaden and Jorden spent nearly two months in hospital, trying times for Flowers and her husband Johnny.

When the children were five months old, Flowers became determined to give the Olympics another shot. A daunting task for some, but Flowers is accustomed to beating the odds.

She became interested in the bobsleigh 18 months before the 2002 Salt Lake Games after answering a recruiting flyer looking for athletes.

Flowers, upset after failing to make the US Olympic team as a long jumper, answered the advertisement and she excelled. Friends and family in warm-weather Birmingham were perplexed at how Flowers could thrive in a sport most Southerners had never seen.

“I never watched bobsleigh in the Olympics,” admitted Flowers, the first person from Alabama to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

“The only thing I ever knew was (the 1993 film on the Jamaican bobsleigh team) Cool Runnings. At first, people were like, ‘You’re crazy. Bobsleigh?’

“I still get the question, “How did you get into bobsledding in Birmingham, where it never snows?”

The whirlwind course from bobsleigh novice to Olympic gold made Flowers an iconic figure to the African-American community.

“It’s important to show people never to give up,” she said. “We hear it time and time again but it’s so important. For me, I not only refused to give up, I was open to change.

“I was coming from track and field and going to bobsleigh. I was coming from the South and now going to all this cold weather.

“I just tell people to be open to change because you never know. Keep a positive attitude because you never know what’s out there.”

Flowers said she felt “honoured and blessed” to represent her heritage in the record books. But, she added, “I think we’re beyond that,” saying more black athletes were participating in winter sports. In Salt Lake City, Canadian ice hockey player Jarome Iginla followed Flowers’s success by becoming the first black man to win a Winter Olympic gold medal.

Now that Flowers is on the cusp of another Olympics, she does not want to be known as Olympic champion, African-American icon, or history maker.

So how does Flowers prefer to be described?