Vonetta Flowers

Vonetta Flowers

First African American Athlete to Win a Winter Olympics Gold Medal

Speaker Categories: Olympic | Female Sports | Diversity, Inclusion | Inspirational Women | Motivational Sports

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Vonetta Flowers Bio
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First-Ever African American Athlete to Win a
Winter Olympics Gold Medal

On February 19, 2002, people in Alabama were glued to their TV's, curious to see how the state's only bobsledder would perform against the rest of the world. In less than 1 minute 48 seconds, tears of joy began to flow, because the young woman from Birmingham, Alabama who dared to try an untraditional sport had left her permanent foot prints in the snow by becoming the 1st person of African descent to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics. People from all over the world soon became familiar with the story of how a little girl's dream of competing in the Summer Olympics led her to tryout for the U.S. Women's Olympic Bobsled Team. In only 18 months after answering a help wanted ad, she would win the inaugural bobsled event and shatter the racial barrier in the process. Many were shocked to discover the struggles she encountered, others were encouraged by the sacrifices she made and all were inspired by her determination to pursue a life long dream of becoming an Olympian. Vonetta  holds the honor of being the 1st person of African descent (male or female) - - from any country - to win a GOLD medal in the Winter Olympics!

Childhood Inspiration

In the summer of 1982, Coach DeWitt Thomas arrived at Jonesboro Elementary School with one goal: to find the fastest and most talented athletes for track and field.  That's where he discovered Vonetta Jeffery.  That summer, V. Jeffery (who he originally thought was a boy) had proved she was a force to be reckoned with, a young girl who was extremely talented and easily motivated. Coach Thomas describes Vonetta as "one in a million" and smiles each time he tells the story about the little girl with exceptional God given talent and a heart of gold. Coach Thomas truly believed that Vonetta would one day compete in the Olympics, but, he had no idea that the Olympic track where history would be made would be covered with ice and snow.

For the next 10 years, Coach Thomas watched a shy young girl develop into a very determined young lady. During that time, she would win almost every race that she entered.

Education and Experience

In 1992 Vonetta graduated from P.D. Jackson Olin High School, where she participated in track and field, volleyball and basketball. Vonetta became the 1st in her family to attend college, when she accepted a Track and Field scholarship to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. By the time she graduated, Vonetta was one of the university's most decorated athletes, with 35 conference titles and victories in the Penn Relays and The Olympic Festival, and its 1st Seven-Time All-American.

The Road to Gold

In both 1996 and 2000, Vonetta qualified for the Olympic Trials, held in Atlanta, Georgia and Sacramento, California, respectively. At the 1996 trials, she competed in the 100 meter dash and the long jump but was unsuccessful in her quest to earn a spot on the team. Vonetta spent the next four years focusing all of her energy on training for an opportunity to compete at the 2000 Olympics in the long jump. She hoped to have an outstanding performance at the 2000 Olympic Trials, but just a few months before the trials began, Vonetta found herself lying on a hospital bed getting ready for her 5th surgery in 8 years. Against all odds, she believed in herself and decided to lace up her spikes one last time, but it wasn't meant to be. After a disappointing performance at the 2000 trials, Vonetta felt it was time to retire from Track and Field, with hopes of starting a family.

Bobsledding Discovery

Two days after the 2000 Olympic Trials, Vonetta's husband, Johnny, spotted a flyer urging Track and Field athletes to tryout for the U.S. bobsled team.  Flowers was introduced to bobsledding by responding to a want ad placed by Bonny Warner.  Warner was looking for a track athlete to provide speed and power for fast starts. With only two weeks of training on how to push a bobsled, Flowers and Warner broke the world start record in October 2000, at Park City, Utah. In 2002, over a year later Vonetta and her new partner, Jill Bakken, slid into history by winning the Gold Medal at the inaugural Women's Olympic bobsled event, which was the 1st medal for a U.S. bobsled team in 46 years!


Her book Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers tells the story of how she went from a track and field athlete to an Olympic gold medalist.

Awards and Distinctions

People magazine selected her for 2002’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” She is a part of the 2002 USOC Team of the Year, along with Bakken and was the recipient of the 2002 US Olympic Spirit Award. She and Bakken were selected to carry the Olympic flag into 2002 Closing Ceremonies. She competed in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, and is currently training for the 2010 Olympics. She coaches track and field at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she and husband, Johnny Flowers, were star track athletes.

Living the Dream: My Road to Gold

Glory at the Top…and Still Going

The Spirit of Power, Love, and Self-Discipline

  • Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith Of Vonetta Flowers
    Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith Of Vonetta Flowers Purchase Book

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  • Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith Of Vonetta Flowers
    Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith Of Vonetta Flowers Purchase Book
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