U.S. Women's Bobsled
Sliding Toward The Top
The last time a U.S. men's bobsled team won an Olympic medal, Eisenhower was president. Yet with the first women's Olympic bobsled competition a year away, a U.S. medal is practically a foregone conclusion. With a second-place finish last Friday at the world championships in Calgary, USA 1 driver Jean Racine and brakeman Jen Davidson earned their 22nd medal in as many starts and were only .02 of a second from their sixth straight win this season. "Jen and Jean performed tremendously," said U.S. coach Bill Tavares. "They are disappointed about the silver, but they can't win 'em all."
It's rare to win even most of 'em in a sport in which a turn a few degrees too sharp or a sled runner a few degrees too cold can mean the difference between first and fifth. Consider also that Racine, 22, and Davidson, 28, are among the youngest duos in women's bobsledding and that at 130 and 170 pounds, respectively, they put 70 fewer pounds behind their push start than do their top rivals, the two best German teams.
The flat, easy-to-navigate Park City track, which will be used in next year's Games, will force Racine and Davidson to improve that push. "We need to bulk up," said Racine last week, between mouthfuls of garlic bread. The way the two women push each other, however, is unparalleled. "Jean's taught me about ice, and I've helped her with her speed," says Davidson, a former Utah State sprinter. "We've become obsessed with winning."
It wasn't always such smooth sliding. The 5'4" Racine, a No. 2-ranked U.S. junior-luge-team member before she made the switch to bobsledding in 1996, was already the best driver on the circuit in 1998 when she asked American coaches to pair her with the 6-foot Davidson, who had a record score on the physical fitness test the U.S. team was giving to aspiring brakemen at that year's team trials. Their initial run together was the first time that Davidson, who had tried out for the U.S. team on a whim, had even been in a bobsled. "She was late on the brake, and we crashed into the boards [at the end of the course] and ruined our runners," says Racine, cracking up at the memory of her terrified partner.
Three months later Racine and Davidson earned a silver medal in their first World Cup, and by the time the Salt Lake Organizing Committee announced the addition of women's bobsled to the Olympic menu, in 1999, the pair was working its way up to a No. 1 world ranking. The victories—not to mention ebullient personalities-have paid off. Northwest Financial Network signed on as a major sponsor of the pair last year, and there is talk of a Visa sponsorship.
The success and visibility of Racine and Davidson promise to raise the boat (or sled) for all American bobsledders—even the elite men. "They're supportive but very, very hungry for a win," says Racine.