Monday, February 18, 2002
Americans hopeful going into debut
PARK CITY, Utah -- Nobody has paid any attention to that other U.S. bobsled driver. She's not about to complain.
"It's great," Jill Bakken said. "We're kind of known as the other team, and I like that. I don't think some people even know we're on the team."
With Jean Racine receiving all the publicity, Bakken and brakewoman Vonetta Flowers of Birmingham, Ala., have happily remained in her shadow.
"I don't mind not being bombarded by media and stuff because it gives me more time to train," said Bakken, who lives in Park City. "I feel we've set ourselves up so that we don't have any pressure at all, which is great. As long as we believe that we're good, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks."
Women's bobsled makes its Olympic debut on Tuesday, and most eyes will be focused on Racine, whose life the past nine months has been like a bobsled ride -- going down, down, down.
Racine's mother died last May. In December, suddenly unable to win in a sport she had dominated for two years, she decided to replace her brakewoman and close friend Jen Davidson.
And now her father faces trial for sex crimes.
Racine says she's doing OK, and she believes a medal is within reach despite a hamstring injury to her new partner, Gea Johnson.
"It's really surprising what you can make yourself handle when you just don't have a choice," said Racine, 23, of Waterford, Mich. "I'm very focused on the future now. I feel positive. I feel like we're going to do it."
Ending the 46-year medal drought in bobsled the United States has endured after dominating the sport in the first half of the 20th century promises to be difficult. German Susi Erdmann, who won two Olympic medals in luge, is coming off her first World Cup title, and teammate Sandra Prokoff won five of the eight races in the 2001-02 season.
"The Germans are going to be tough to beat," said Racine, who finished third in the World Cup. "But I think I'm finally at that place in my mind where I feel good. I'm excited. I'm going to take it to the next level and put it together on race day."
In practice this week, the two German teams have been strongest. But Bakken clocked the second-fastest time Sunday night. Racine and Johnson were last in USA-1, as Johnson basically went along for the ride and didn't push.
Both teams skipped the final two training runs Monday to rest. Team coaches said prior to Monday night's draw that Johnson would be Racine's brakewoman.
Regardless, another chapter in the soap opera that Racine's life has become will play out on Tuesday. Davidson will be a forerunner for the race, which means they'll be together again in the start house. Forerunners check out the course for the competitors.
U.S. women's coach Bill Tavares isn't too happy about that.
"There are hard feelings sometimes when you compete," Tavares said. "I'm going to have to find a way to keep the girls focused."
Racine said that won't be a problem.
"I have a drive to win," she said. "I'm going to do it. I'm battling for myself. I mean, I've put 10 years on the ice and I'm so glad I'm here and have this opportunity.
"At this point, especially with the things I've dealt with the past two months, people who really support me and believe in me don't care whether I medal or not. The drive for me to medal comes from within more than anywhere."