Vonetta Flowers was a three-sport athlete in high school. The first member of her family to attend college, she was a seven-time NCAA All-American in track field and won the long jump at the prestigious Penn Relays.
Flowers harbored Olympic dreams in track and field, twice qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials. She attempted to qualify for the Games in the 100 meters in 1996 and the long jump in 2000. However, unsuccessful in both efforts, she was ready to retire from competition.
But in the days after the 2000 Olympic trials, Flowers’ husband, Johnny – also a track athlete – saw a flyer recruiting track athletes to the U.S. bobsled team. Flowers reluctantly agreed to accompany Johnny to the tryouts.
“We laughed about it,” Vonetta said. “We’d go back home to Alabama and tell our friends and family that, ‘Guess what we did today? We tried out for the bobsled team.’ You know, just thinking they would get a laugh out of it.”
At the tryouts, however, Johnny pulled a hamstring. He then convinced Vonetta to give it a try.
The rest, of course, is history. Vonetta made the cut and soon thereafter traveled to Park City, Utah, where she took her first trip down the bobsled track.
“It felt like I had been placed in a trash can and thrown down a hill,” she said. “So I was scared out of my mind.”
Vonetta soon became the top American brake woman and she paired with Jill Bakken to win the gold medal at Salt Lake 2002 in the inaugural women’s Olympic bobsled event – the first Olympic Winter gold medal ever won by a Black athlete.