First African-American to Win Gold in the Winter Olympics: Vonetta Flowers

PARK CITY, Utah — (AP) No one had really given Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers a chance. They weren’t even supposed to be the best U.S. team.

Jill Bakken, right, and Vonetta Flowers got themselves off to a good start to win the women’s bobsled.

“A lot of people saw us as the ‘other’ team,” Flowers said. “We came here to prove people wrong.”

That they did, winning the inaugural women’s bobsled Tuesday night by beating the favored Germans and the much-hyped Jean Racine in the other American sled.

The victory by USA-2 ended a 46-year drought for the United States. America had not won an Olympic bobsled medal since Arthur Tyler took the four-man bronze in 1956 and had not won gold since his brother, Francis, won the four-man in 1948.

There was also an Olympic landmark: The 28-year-old Flowers became the first African-American ever to win a gold medal at a Winter Games.

“Hopefully, this will encourage other African-American boys and girls to give winter sports a try because you don’t see too many of them out there,” she said.

The former college track star once had other Olympic dreams, but two knee operations and ankle surgery dashed those hopes.

“I have truly been blessed to come into this sport and pick it up so fast,” said Flowers said, unable to stop crying. “My goal was to make the Summer Olympics. God had a different plan for me.”

Sandra Prokoff and Ulrike Holzner won the silver in Germany-1 while compatriots Susi Erdmann and Nicole Herschmann took the bronze. Racine and Gea Johnson finished fifth.

“I think I’m going to be looking back at this for a long time,” Racine said.

In December, Bakken and Racine faced the same quandary: Both needed a new brakewoman to push their sleds.

Racine dumped her best friend and chose Johnson, a muscular former heptathlete from Arizona; Bakken took Flowers, who once ran track at UAB and didn’t try bobsledding until after she failed to qualify for the U.S. team headed for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

“I don’t even know what to feel,” Bakken said. “It’s amazing.”

Even more amazing were the 11th-hour antics of Racine after Johnson injured her left hamstring Saturday night. After the race, Racine said she had asked Flowers over the weekend to consider changing sleds. Flowers declined.

The race was gripping from the start. Dressed in matching bodysuits, Bakken and Flowers stood behind their bright red bobsled ready to begin their push to history.

They seemed to forget the two German teams had won every World Cup race in the 2001-02 season. Standing in the start house, they stared through the visors of their black helmets and pounded each other’s fists.

They flew down the track twice at 80 mph, winning with a two-run time of 1 minute, 37.76 seconds. Prokoff and Holzner were second in 1:38.06, with Erdmann and Herschmann at 1:38.29.

Racine and Johnson were timed in 1:38.73. Johnson was in severe pain and crying as she hobbled off the track.

“America was on the podium today, and that was the goal,” a tearful Racine said. “We didn’t win, but America did.”

anna called crying and crying and crying.

i said, let it out, baby.

Anna got her ass beat in Dubai today, by the number one tennis player in the galaxy, Ms. Venus Williams.

“i hate my life. i hate it. oh, God!” Anna wept.

Dubai is just like any place in the world when it comes to women’s tennis. They come to look at Anna, but come to watch Venus and believe it or not, but this has started to bother the white Russian.

“i am going to quit. i fucking hate this all. these people look at me, and God only knows what theyre really thinking. and i show up and they criticize and they gawk and they boo and they cheer and they point and they oh, tony.”

and i sit on the phone in the wee hours trying to listen, trying to be a good friend, but im no different. what can i tell her?

as bad as Russia was for the blonde bombshell, nothing could be worse than trying to be a young Black teen tennis player in Compton. the Williams sisters are stronger, meaner, leaner, and more focused than any girl named Anna will ever be.

“what did you say?” she asked.

apparently i had been thinking out loud.

and the tears flowed harder.

Anna is one of those girls who could cry all night if you let her. various shades of grief and tears. she’d wail for a while, sob for a bit, bawl for some time.

near the end of the conversation she was just snorting and whimpering a bit and then she asked me how my day was.

i said it was pretty good, i got an interview with the lovely and talented Jai from, got some sweet emails from some nice people. and a Cub fan from Chicago, I reckon, gave me $40 and became the first Stone Pimp, oh, and some other guy who thinks he knows me gave me a buck, a VP of some tv thing, i dont know.

she said, “people are really giving you money?”

i said, “well, yeah. of course. they want to see me riding in a Snoop DeVille.

Anna laughed and you could hear a buggar bubble pop in her nose, and then she blew it really cutely.

“You’re not going to get any Snoopy Ville.” she laughed.

“It’s a Snoop DeVille, and yes, I will get it,” I said.

“Do you have any idea how many people are going to have to give you dollars here and there for you to get that crazy car?” she said.

I wanted to tell her that I would get that car way before she would ever beat one of the Williams sisters and win a tournament, but I knew one of those rich oil guys would be trying to paw her as soon as I hung up with her, so I kept it to myself.

“I can wait, Anna. Just let me ask you this.” I said. “When I get my Snoopy Ville, will you take a ride with me in it?”

“Tony Pierce, I will be proud to take a ride in that car if you get it.” Anna Kournikova said from Dubai.

“Well, good. Now you go work on your backhand and stay away from those Arab discos in the basement of some young tycoon’s palace. And change that blue outfit, it’s bad luck.”

“OK, I will, bye love,” Anna said and hung up.

And as soon as I hung up the phone rang again, and I picked it up and I said, “Anna?”

And it was Ashley and she said, “what did you just say?”

“I said, ‘And how are you Ashley Sunshine?'”

And Ashley huffed and slammed down the phone.

Have no fear, though. She called back again. And she had a few things to say to me as well.