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2002 gold medalist bobsledder seeks to repeat in Turin

TURIN, Italy (BP)–Vonetta Flowers had dreamed about competing in the Olympics since she was 9 years old.

A track and field star in high school and college, Flowers thought the 2000 Olympic trials were her last chance to fulfill that dream. So when she failed to qualify for the U.S. team, she was crushed.

But Flowers now believes God had other plans for her. Applying her track skills to a new sport -– bobsledding -– Flowers took advantage of a new door God had opened in her life. She didn’t just walk through. She raced through.

Qualifying for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as a brakewoman for the U.S. women’s bobsled team, Flowers and her partner Jill Bakken captured the gold medal, making Flowers the first black woman to win gold in the Winter Olympics.

This year in Turin, Italy, Flowers tries to defend her Olympic championship with a new partner, Jean Prahm -– but they have an uphill climb. After their first two runs today, Flowers and Prahm were in ninth place, .71 seconds behind the German team in first. The final two runs in the women’s bobsled competition will come Tuesday, Feb. 21.

“I thought my way to the Olympics would be in track and field through running or jumping in my track shoes,” Flowers writes in her autobiography, “Running on Ice,” a 2005 release from the New Hope Publishers division of Woman’s Missionary Union. “Little did I know that in God’s timing, He planned for me to don start shoes with hundreds of spikes, and I would take up the sport of bobsled.”

Flowers’ book chronicles her journey from shattered dreams to crowning Olympic moment. Throughout the trek, she tells of how she came to faith in Christ, and how that faith sustained her and propelled her to pursue success in bobsledding.

“I began to realize that God wasn’t fooling when He planted that Olympic dream in me as a child,” Flowers writes. “He really did have a plan for my life. He had been constantly preparing me for this opportunity and I was happy that I had had faith even when it seemed foolish to do so.”

She took up the sport almost by freak accident. Immediately after the 2000 track and field Olympic trials, in which Flowers failed to qualify, her husband Johnny noticed a flyer seeking athletes to try out for the U.S. bobsled team.

Given the qualifications listed on the flyer, Johnny thought Vonetta would be a perfect fit for the sport. She wasn’t so sure.

“He kept on talking and talking until I was tired of hearing about it, so I agreed to try out with him,” Flowers writes. “I figured that if I promised to try out then he would quit bugging me every few seconds.”

Flowers impressed Bonny Warner, the bobsled driver who was holding the tryouts. Warner soon called Flowers at her home in Birmingham, Ala., and asked her to take a trip to Germany for the next step in the testing process. Flowers accepted.

“In the same month when my Olympic aspirations had been crushed, I found myself moving hopefully down an entirely new path towards my dream, all because of a husband who wouldn’t give up and a God who gives us all second chances,” Flowers writes.

Warner eventually selected Flowers as her brakewoman, and the two began competing together. But the partnership didn’t last, as partnerships in bobsledding seldom do. In the 2002 Olympic trials, Flowers instead teamed up with Bakken, and the duo qualified for the Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Flowers was beside herself with joy and relying on God to take her the rest of the way.

“The impossible felt possible,” Flowers writes. “I knew that, in my own strength, it would be impossible to do what was ahead for Jill and me. Yet because of my faith in Christ, I knew that as I leaned on God for His help and support, all things were possible.”

The impossible became reality for Flowers and Bakken, as the team captured gold in Salt Lake City. For Flowers, it was the moment for which she had been waiting for a lifetime.

“It was a magical moment,” Flowers writes. “Running on ice had provided a way to Olympic gold that I could have never predicted. I was amazed at how God had honored my simple steps of faith.”
Vonetta Flowers’ autobiography, “Running on Ice,” from the New Hope Publishers division of Woman’s Missionary Union, can be ordered through Christian bookstores.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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