By: Kennedy Grant

If you are watching the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, you may have spotted a familiar face. UAB alumna, and Olympic Medalist, Vonetta Flowers made an appearance in one of the recent Xfinity Olympic commercials.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Vonetta Flowers began her track journey at nine years old while attending Jonesboro Elementary School. Her hard work and dedication in the sport led her to a track and field scholarship at UAB and the opportunity to compete in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Although Flowers competed at the Olympics trials in 1996 and later in 2000, she was not chosen to represent Team USA in Track and Field. As one of UAB’s most awarded athletes and former captain of the UAB Women’s Track team, Flowers was starting to look at life beyond track and field.

Single Picture of Vonetta Flowers

Less than a week after the Olympic Trials of 2000, her husband came across a flyer for the U.S. Bobsled Team. It encouraged track athletes like herself to try out for the team. This flyer changed the Olympic trajectory of Flowers, and she would finally come to see the day she represented Team USA.

On February 29, 2002, Flowers geared up for the U.S. Winter Olympics in bobsled. Flowers made history that day as the first Black athlete to win a gold medal in winter sports. In less than a minute and forty seconds, Flowers and partner Jill Bakken won the gold medal at the inaugural women’s Olympic bobsledding event, as well as earning the first U.S. Olympic medal in any bobsled event in over 46 years.

Until Flowers took home the gold, she had no idea she was the first Black athlete to do so. She hoped to inspire others in the Black community to try their hand in winter sports like bobsled. Three-time Olympic medalist, Elana Meyers Taylor, was one of the many Black athletes inspired by Flowers. Meyers Taylor told the New York Times, that she took up bobsled because of Flowers and “without her, there’s no way I would have thought winter sport was for people who looked like us.”

Flowers went on for many years as the sole Black Winter Olympic Gold Medalist - until now. This year, Erin Jackson made history as the first Black woman to win an Olympic medal in speed skating at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

To learn more about her life, please visit the Vonetta Flowers section at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets are $3 for students.

UABArchives Flowers A2005 03P 0109

Credit: the UAB Archives, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

UABArchives Flowers A2007 11P 1232

Credit: the UAB Archives, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Earlier in the month at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Flowers and team-mate Jill Bakken won the inaugural Women's Bobsled event. Upon return to Birmingham, a public celebration was held in Bartow Arena for Flowers, an assistant coach of the UAB track team and an alumna of the university.

Image ID: P7.3.13, #1232

Credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Nike bobspikes used by Vonetta Flowers for competitions during the 2005-2006 bobsledding season. The bobspikes, both size 8 are all black on the exterior with a white Nike swoosh symbols on either side. At the center of the spikes, a zipper runs from the top to slightly above the toe. The exterior heels have [USA] sewn above another Nike symbol. The interior of the spikes are a red cloth. The bottoms have metal spikes at the toe.

  • UABArchives Flowers A2005 03P 0109
  • UABArchives Flowers A2007 11P 1232
  • UABArchives Flowers A2005 03P 0109

    Credit: the UAB Archives, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

  • UABArchives Flowers A2007 11P 1232

    Credit: the UAB Archives, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Earlier in the month at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Flowers and team-mate Jill Bakken won the inaugural Women's Bobsled event. Upon return to Birmingham, a public celebration was held in Bartow Arena for Flowers, an assistant coach of the UAB track team and an alumna of the university.

    Image ID: P7.3.13, #1232
  • "Bobspikes worn by Vonetta Flowers" by Nike Inc., American, founded 1971 is licensed under

    Nike bobspikes used by Vonetta Flowers for competitions during the 2005-2006 bobsledding season. The bobspikes, both size 8 are all black on the exterior with a white Nike swoosh symbols on either side. At the center of the spikes, a zipper runs from the top to slightly above the toe. The exterior heels have [USA] sewn above another Nike symbol. The interior of the spikes are a red cloth. The bottoms have metal spikes at the toe.

  • UABArchives Flowers A2005 03P 0109
  • UABArchives Flowers A2007 11P 1232