Title IX pioneers: Vonetta Flowers, first Black athlete to win a gold medal at Winter Olympics

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If you fail, sometimes giving up and trying a new sport might be the best way to go.

That's what Vonetta Flowers, a star sprinter and long jumper at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, decided was the best course of action.

After failed attempts to qualify for the U.S. Summer Olympics track team, Flowers decided to change her sport, going with bobsled.

The decision paid off, as Flowers and Jill Bakken teamed up to win gold in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Flowers became the first Black athlete from any country to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

Vonetta Flowers, right, cries as she hugs her teammate Jill Bakken of the United States after their final and gold medal winning run in the Two Woman Bobsled inaugural event at Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2002. Flowers, 28, is the first black athlete to win a medal at any Winter Games.
Vonetta Flowers, right, cries as she hugs her teammate Jill Bakken of the United States after their final and gold medal winning run in the Two Woman Bobsled inaugural event at Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2002. Flowers, 28, is the first black athlete to win a medal at any Winter Games.

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Flowers, who was the first member of her family to attend college, became a seven-time NCAA All-American in track and field. She also added 35 conference titles and victories in Penn Relays and The Olympic Festival.

She twice qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials, however her attempts to qualify in the 100-meter run in 1996 and the long jump in 2000 did not pan out.

According to her website, soon after failing to qualify for the Olympics in track and field, another door opened for Flowers.

"Two days after the 2000 Olympic Trials, Vonetta's husband, Johnny, spotted a flyer urging Track and Field athletes to try out for the U.S. bobsled team," the website reads. "The only thing Vonetta and Johnny knew about bobsledding was what they learned from the movie, 'Cool Runnings.' "

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Johnny, who was also a track athlete, and Flowers teamed up to enter the competition. Two days after it began, Johnny pulled his hamstring, and Flowers continued the pursuit.

One year later, Flowers ranked second in the United States and third in the world.

It paid off when she and Bakken won the first bobsled title for the United States in 46 years.

In the next Winter Olympics four years later at Torino in 2006, Flowers finished sixth, just a year after giving birth to twin boys.

Shortly after the 2006 Olympics, Flowers announced her retirement.

In 2005, Flowers and W. Terry Whalin published a book about Flowers' accomplishments, "Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers."

Contact Ehsan Kassim at 256-300-5313 or ekassim@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Ehsan_Kassim.

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Vonetta Flowers was first Black athlete to win gold medal in Winter Olympics