Since she was barely legal behind the wheel of a car, Jean Racine
has spent two hours of nearly every day negotiating the sinuous
curves of bobsled tracks. But just a month before the first
women's Olympic bobsled competition, Racine, the U.S.'s No. 1
driver, was focused on cheeseburgers and protein shakes. "I weigh
127, and my goal is 132," said the 5'4" Racine. "I'm looking for
a little more bulk, a little more explosion."
To that end Racine, 23, had already made a weighty decision: On
Dec. 13 she replaced brakeman Jen Davidson, her sled partner of
three years and best friend, with former NCAA heptathlon champion
Gea Johnson, who'd been on the No. 3 U.S. sled. Though Racine and
Davidson won the World Cup points title a year ago, their
sluggish start times had kept them winless this season. Johnson,
meanwhile, had turned in superior push times at team practices.
On Dec. 22, only nine days after Racine and Johnson teamed up,
they set a track record (48.92 seconds) at the U.S. trials at
Utah Olympic Park. "Gea has given Jean the start she needs to win
[the gold medal]," says U.S. women's coach Bill Tavares.
Although drivers drop brakemen routinely, Davidson blasted Racine
for replacing her and filed grievances with the U.S. bobsled
federation and the USOC. Racine stood by her decision--"What
quarterback would throw to his best friend if he couldn't catch
the ball?" she said--and after a two-day hearing last week an
arbitrator concluded that Davidson had no case. Davidson withdrew
her grievance and even gave Racine an apologetic hug.
Racine is inspired by the memory of her mother, Cathy, who died
last May of scleroderma, a rare connective-tissue disorder. "I'd
visit her in the hospital, and she'd say, 'Why aren't you on the
ice?'" says Racine, who five years ago switched from luge, in
which she excelled while growing up in Michigan, to bobsled, a
sport she considered more tactically compelling. "I want to win
the gold for myself, for my country, but most of all for my mom.
I promised her that I'd keep striving."
February 4, 2002