Novice Flowers makes bobsleigh history
Women's bobsleigh made its Olympic debut in Salt Lake City. Women had been racing sleds for decades, but it was only in the years leading up to the Games that a world championship had been established, so the issue of who would prevail on the Olympic stage was truly intriguing.
The field was also packed with athletes who had made the switch from other sports. The USA's best known bobsledder, Jean Racine, had recently signed up former heptathlete Gea Johnson as her brakewoman. The Italians had Gerda Weissensteiner, a former luge champion, paired with track cyclist Antonella Bellutti, who won Olympic gold in both Atlanta and Sydney. Meanwhile, Germany’s Suzi Erdmann, an Olympic luge medallist in both 1992 and 1994, had established herself at the top of the world bobsleigh standings, and arrived in Salt Lake City as the likely favourite.
Another athlete-turned-sledder, Vonetta Flowers of the USA, had been a sprinter and long jumper who harboured hopes of making the American track and field team. However, then she saw an advert inviting athletes to try out for the women's bobsleigh, so she decided to have a go, and quickly discovered she had natural talent. Just eight weeks before the Games, she joined forces with pilot Jill Bakken in the USA-2 sled.
The inaugural Olympic women’s bobsleigh competition was intense, with both runs held on a single day. In the first run Bakken and Flowers set the fastest start time and held that advantage all the way to the end, crossing the line in 48.81 seconds, an advantage of 0.29 seconds over Erdmann's Germany-1 sled. But with only a second separating the first 11 teams, the second run was especially tense.
The Germany-1 crew raised the bar with a fast start and a total time of 1 minute 38.06 seconds, but the Americans knew that they just had to match their performance from the first run, or even go slightly slower, the gold medal would be theirs. After a slightly slower start, they got into a smooth rhythm and crossed the line 0.01 seconds faster than the Germans to give them a 0.30-second advantage overall.