Home > Uncategorized > February 19 – Vonetta Flowers

February 19 – Vonetta Flowers

Last night I received an email from Kieran (a friend from B-school and a fellow BHM fan), who suggested that we feature some accomplishments and achievements by African-Americans in the Olympics given the fact that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are currently underway. Coincidentally, it was on this very day, February 19, eight years ago that the first Black athlete won a gold medal in a Winter Olympics. Do you know the person and/or the event?…

Vonetta Flowers, along with teammate Jill Bakken, captured the Gold Medal in the inaugural Two-Woman Bobsled event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. In the process, Flowers became the first person of African descent (male or female, from ANY country) ever to win Gold in a Winter Olympic Games. But her path to the Gold was a less than traditional one.

Vonetta was born on October 29, 1973 in Birmingham, Alabama.  At the age of 9, she was spotted by Coach DeWitt Thomas who was looking to recruit and train young boys and girls for his Alabama Striders. Coach Thomas held an impromptu footrace in the elementary school parking lot, and Vonetta clocked the fastest time of any boy or girl. Immediately recognizing the raw talent and potential in her, Thomas motivated Vonetta with dreams of being a future Olympian and coached her for the next 10 years, developing her into a highly successful track athlete.

Upon graduating from high school, Vonetta became the first in her family to attend college when the University of Alabama, Birmingham offered her a Track and Field Scholarship. While a student there, she earned 35 conference titles and victories and became the University’s first 7-Time All-American. As one of the best track athletes in the country, she qualified for the Summer Olympic Trials in 1996 and 2000, but failed to make the team on both occasions due to the 5 surgeries she underwent in the span of 8 years. After the disappointment of the 2000 trials, Vonetta decided to retire.

However, just 2 days after the trials, her husband Johnny (also a Track and Field athlete) spotted a “help wanted” ad urging athletes with Track backgrounds to try out for the US Bobsled Team. They both scoffed at the idea initially, but before long, the notion caught on with Johnny, so he decided to give it a go. Vonetta went along as moral support. Unfortunately (or fortunately!), Johnny pulled his hamstring during the six-item test, so Vonetta decided to step in and complete the competition. So impressive was her performance, power and speed, she made the team and quickly became the #1 brake woman in the U.S.

18 months after responding to that “help wanted” ad, Vonetta Flowers and Jill Bakken arrived in Salt Lake to compete in the first-ever Two-Woman Bobsled event. Compared with their American teammates, Flowers and Bakken were relative underdogs. But in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history, they shocked the world in their final run with a finishing time of 1 minute 37.76 seconds (0.3 seconds faster than the German silver medalists). Moments later, she was standing atop the podium, accepting her Gold Medal.

It is incredible and inspiring that this woman was able to pick up a brand new sport at the age of 26 and two years later prove herself the best in the world, shattering race barriers in the process.

thanks for reading,


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: