In 2002, bobsledder Vonetta Flowers became the first black person to win a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games.
Born October 29, 1973, in Birmingham, Alabama, Vonetta Flowers was a star track and field athlete in high school and at the University of Alabama. After failing to secure a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Flowers turned to bobsledding. In 2002, she became the first black athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics.
Vonetta (Jeffery) Flowers was born October 29, 1973, in Birmingham, Alabama. An exceptional athlete, Flowers was a standout basketball player and track and field star at P.D. Jackson-Olin High School, which she graduated from in 1992.
The first in her family to go to college, Flowers enrolled at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, with a track and field scholarship. At the school, Flowers continued her dominant run, racking up seven All-American nods and six conference MVP honors. She graduated in 1997 with a degree in physical education.
With an obvious eye on the Summer Olympics, Flowers tried twice to qualify for the Games. In 1996 she competed in the 100-meter dash and long jump, but came up short in the Olympic trials. Four years later, Flowers, who had focused her efforts exclusively on the long jump, again failed in her bid to secure a spot on the U.S. track and field team. Soon after, Flowers retired from the sport.
Winter Olympics Gold
In the days after the Olympic trials, her husband, Johnny Mack Flowers, alerted Flowers to a new recruitment push to introduce track and field athletes to bobsledding. A change in focus was obvious: It had been nearly half a century since the Americans had won a single medal in the sport.
Her interest piqued, Flowers received a crash course in bobsledding. Armed with just two weeks of training in pushing a sled, Flowers and teammate Bonny Warner set a world start record in October 2000 at Park City, Utah, home of the 2002 Winter Games. Other victories quickly followed, including a gold-medal performance at the World Cup.
At the 2002 Winter Games, Flowers' lifelong dream of medaling came true when she and teammate Jill Bakken delivered an upset victory and won gold in the women's event. The win ended the Americans' long medal drought and made Flowers the first black person to ever win gold at the Winter Olympics.
Flowers is married and has three children. One of her twins sons was born deaf. Her parental status, however, didn't put an end to her athletic career. In 2006, Flowers returned to the Winter Games with the U.S. bobsled team, finishing sixth overall. She also is the co-author of Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers (2005). In May 2011, she was inducted in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.