How Vonetta Flowers made history for Black Olympians worldwide

It’s been 20 years since this historic moment in Olympic history

USA Two-Woman Bobsled Team Jill Bakken (L) And Vonetta Flowers Celebrate Their Gold Medal. Photo by Tim De Waele (Getty Images)

With the first weekend of the Winter Olympics coinciding with the first weekend of Black History Month, it’s a good time to look back at how both Olympic and Black history was made 20 years ago this month at the Winter Games.

It’s certainly history that Vonetta Flowers never thought she’d make after her dreams of Olympic glory appeared to be dead.

A track and field athlete, Flowers in 1996 and 2000 attempted to qualify for the U.S. team that would compete at the Summer Olympics, but failed in close fashion in both attempts.

Flowers tried to qualify for the 100 meters in 1996 and the long jump in 2000.

After failing to make the 2000 team, Flowers’ husband, Johnny, saw a flyer trying to get track athletes to try out for the U.S. bobsled team.

Born and raised in Alabama, the notion at first was laughable.

But then, Johnny and Vonetta gave it a shot.

Johnny pulled a hamstring during the tryouts, but Vonetta had a lot more success.

So much so, that she soon went to Utah to go on an actual bobsled track for the first time.

“It felt like I had been placed in a trash can and thrown down a hill,” Flowers told uspom.org. “So I was scared out of my mind.”

Flowers obviously overcame her fears quickly, becoming the top brakewoman for the U.S. bobsled team.

Bobsled had never been a women’s sport at the Winter Olympics, but that changed when it became an official sport for the 2002 Games on home soil in Salt Lake City.

It was there that Flowers made history.

Paired with driver Jill Bakken, the U.S. team won the gold medal, but Flowers ended up being more than just a part of the first gold-medal team in women’s Olympic bobsled history.

Flowers also became the first Black athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics, according to olympic.org.

Flowers ended up competing in the 2006 Turin Games as well, where she finished sixth with a new driving partner, Jean Racine.

But despite not winning a medal in 2006, her achievement in 2002 will always be one for the history books.


About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.