3/9/2003 - Flowers' Life takes Busy Turn

Flowers’ Life takes Busy Turn
Steve Irvine
News staff writer

Vonetta Flowers began her first day as an Olympic gold medalist just after 4
a.m. without the benefit of sleep.

Her official itinerary started with an appearance on the "NBC Today" show
and didn’t end until long after she stood alongside bobsleigh partner Jill
Bakken on the top of the medal podium at the Olympic Medals Plaza in Salt
Lake City.

In between there were interviews with ABC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and CNN, along
with a news conference in the morning and a teleconference during the late
afternoon Wednesday.

Chances are pretty good that today and Friday will bring a similar schedule
for the first black athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics.

"Hopefully this will encourage other African-American boys and girls to give
winter sports a try," she said.

Life has suddenly turned hectic for the 28-year-old Birmingham native whose
original Olympic dream had nothing to do with snow and ice.

"Last night is still going on," Flowers said Wednesday evening. "We didn’t
get any sleep last night and only about 10 minutes today. It’s already been
a long day."

Thanks to Wednesday’s media blitz, Flowers’ story has quickly become known
around the world.

The former track and field star at Jackson-Olin High School and the
University of Alabama at Birmingham had dreams of competing in the Summer
Olympics. The dream took a funny twist in 2000 when she was in Sacramento,
Calif., for the Olympic track and field trials and spotted a flyer for
bobsleigh tryouts.

Almost as a lark, Flowers and her husband, Johnny Mack, who also was on the track team at UAB, decided to give bobsleigh a try.

"I tried to talk her out of it. Bobsled? It just looked sad and depressing
to me," said her mother, Bobbie Jeffery.

"Why would someone in Alabama want to bobsled?" remarked her husband.

Yet Flowers became part of one of the best bobsleigh tandems in the world
with pioneer Bonny Warner.

Dig a little deeper and Flowers has tales of overcoming injuries and the
disappointment of being dumped by Warner in 2001 despite the tandem being
ranked No. 2 in the world.

There were times, she said, when family and her job as an assistant track
coach at UAB took a back seat to chasing a dream.

"Now I realize that God was preparing me for this sport," Flowers said.

Where does Flowers go from here?

She talked on Tuesday night about retiring from the sport she just started
to start a family. On Wednesday, Flowers left the door open on her bobsleigh
career.

"I see myself taking some time off and I do want to start a family," Flowers
said. "The way I feel right now I can also see myself back in the Olympics
in four years."

Before that happens Flowers will certainly reap some benefits of her
incredible journey to becoming an Olympic gold medalist. She doesn’t have an
agent, she said, because it never occurred to her before Tuesday that she
needed one.

The business cards could be piling up soon, however.

Kip Koslow, the executive vice president of Steiner Sports Marketing in New
Rochelle, N.Y., said the historic victory won’t necessarily bring a windfall
of endorsement offers. But it will be profitable.

"Overall, Americans respond better to the Summer Games," Koslow said. "But
this could be a pivotal Winter Olympics and (Flowers) is a big part of
that."

Koslow added that the amount of endorsement offers won’t be as many as some
other sports because there is little attention after the Olympics. But he
does believe that the gold medal pair and their underdog journey will have
Flowers and Bakken " inundated with speaking opportunities."

What happens in the coming months isn’t a concern to Flowers right now.
Right now, she’ll continue her crowded interview schedule before flying back
to Birmingham on Tuesday.

She’ll return home to hear her father, Jimmie Jeffery, tell his tales of
watching Vonetta win the gold medal. Jeffery could not attend the Olympic
Games because of difficulties with allergies but he did see her compete for
the first time by watching on television.

"My dad from the start was afraid for me," Flowers said. "He didn’t want me
pushing a sled."

On Wednesday, the Helena resident will be honored in a public ceremony at
Bartow Arena at 12:15 p.m. It will be the first chance for her alma mater to
honor an Olympic champion.

"We can’t wait to give her a hug and tell her how proud of her we are," said
UAB freshmen Jan Parker, who is a member of the Blazers’ track and field
team. "She should be an inspiration to every one of us."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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