Racine, Johnson finish fifth, fail to medalPosted: Tuesday February 19, 2002 11:48 PM
Updated: Wednesday February 20, 2002 12:58 AM
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- At the finish, Jean Racine simply got pushed aside.
And as the first Olympic medal winners in women's bobsled held their news conference, Racine, the top U.S. driver who ruined a friendship for a chance at gold, sat by herself.
Nearby, the brakewoman Racine stole from another teammate cried and winced in pain as her torn hamstring was wrapped by a coach. Then Gea Johnson dropped one of her crutches.
This wasn't the Olympic moment the USA-1 team had in mind.
Racine and Gea Johnson finished fifth Tuesday, beaten by a Swiss team, two German sleds and the American team of Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers -- the USA-2 team no one took seriously and the one now going home with gold medals.
"I'm still proud of what we did," Racine said, fighting back tears. "It's not like we crashed and burned. We came in fifth. More effort went into our fifth place finish than anyone else's tonight."
In December, Racine decided to dump her close friend, Jen Davidson, as her pusher and replaced her with Johnson, a former track star with a checkered past.
Racine was criticized for the move, and called everything from a cutthroat to "Mean Jean" Racine for betraying Davidson. The pair had dominated the World Cup circuit together and then were promoted as Olympic "Glamour Girls" in TV commercials and magazine ads.
But when they started losing, Racine kicked Davidson out of her sled.
She stood by her decision, saying she wouldn't let anything get in her way of winning a gold medal.
Ironically, it was her decision not to replace Johnson after she pulled her hamstring during practice on Saturday that cost her any chance at winning a medal.
"Three days before the Olympics, that's nearly impossible to do," Racine said. "I know if Gea could get through this, she would have a better push than anyone else. She pushed her heart out."
Johnson had thought she would be able to perform -- right up until race time.
But as she and Racine broke out of the start house in Tuesday's first heat, Johnson's hamstring began to tear. Riding in excruciating pain, she and Racine made it down the course in 49.31 seconds and were in fifth place.
As she rode in a truck back to the top of the mountain for the second run, Johnson wanted to be anywhere but Utah.
"I would have liked to have someone else push for Jean," Johnson said. "I was in so much pain."
She had no choice but to do it again.
Johnson steadied herself in the starting chute, knowing the pain would accompany every step. The first few looked OK, but she nearly fell before jumping into the sled.
"I felt all right until I tried to sprint," said Johnson, who will undergo an MRI Wednesday. "I couldn't push off with two legs. I only had one. My hamstring is completely blown out. It was ripping with every step I took."
Despite getting such a poor start, Racine, sensing the gold had slipped away, had USA-1 hugging the ice as she powered through the corners and straightaways in a desperate attempt to get a medal.
Her manic push came up short. She missed a bronze by 0.44 seconds.
"I drove my heart out," Racine said.
It was her drive to get a gold medal that had cast Racine in a villain's role as the games approached. But she never cracked as the pressure mounted around her.
The Davidson decision wasn't her only ordeal. She kept her composure and stayed resolute despite some personal turmoil in the past year, including her mother's death and her father's arrest on sexual abuse charges.
She doesn't regret a thing.
"I based all my decisions on everything I could," she said. "I think I was the lucky driver who got a lot of media attention, some of it was good, some of it wasn't. I think there are some lessons learned from that."
Racine said she didn't seek out Davidson at the finish. And her former friend, who served as a forerunner before the competition, didn't come looking for her.
But now that her Olympic drive is over, that could change.
"Hopefully," Racine said, "we'll be able to mend our friendship at some point."