A man would let Satan sit in the back of his sled if he were convinced that would make it go faster.
And nobody would say a word.
Jean Racine threw her best friend off the U.S. women's team's No. 1 bobsled in mid-December, a week before the Olympic trials, and she hasn't heard the end of it since.
''I did,'' she said, ''what I had to do.''
Ambition is part of the makeup of every world-class competitor. We demand it from men, but still recoil when the same quality is front and center in a woman. What Racine's body language said Thursday is that she could care less about what the rest of us think.
She walked into a news conference with three teammates five days before their sport makes its Olympic debut. All four took their seats on a podium and three of them quickly leaned back, away from the microphones set on the table in front of them. Only Racine leaned forward, with hands clasped in front of her. Ambition practically oozed through the pores of her fingertips.
For most of the last three years, she and Jen Davidson were the darlings of women's bobsled. They were as photogenic as they were fast, which is saying a lot. With Racine as driver and Davidson as brakeman, they won the last two overall World Cup championships and posed at photo-shoots for everything from the front of cereal boxes to the car ads in the back of magazines.
But at the same time their endorsement value skyrocketed, their performance began plummeting. In six World Cup races this season, they'd won only one medal, a bronze, while a suddenly emerging German team claimed every one of the golds. In their last race together, at Innsbruck, Austria, Racine and Davidson had the 15th-fastest start time -- nearly a full second behind the Germans -- and finished 11th.
''At that point, I had to question if I was even going to make the Olympic team,'' Racine said. ''I definitely had my questions.''
And soon enough, Racine came up with an answer. Under bobsled federation rules, drivers can choose their brakemen from a pool of qualified candidates and men switch sliding partners all the time. Racine swapped out Davidson for former NCAA heptathlon champion Gea Johnson, a sometimes-bodybuilder who only last year finished serving a four-year track suspension for using anabolic steroids.
At that point, Johnson had been part of the bobsled program for all of five months. But there was no denying her ability. At the Olympic trials, she and Racine qualified as the top American pair and set a track record of 48.92 seconds on the first of two runs over the Utah Olympic Park bobsled course that will be used for the Winter Games. Better still, they shaved a tenth of a second off the course record set by Germany's Sandra Prokoff in a World Cup event a year earlier.
Their personalities meshed almost as quickly. Rarely has the division of labor been more clear than it is with this pair.
''I'm kind of the brains of the operation,'' Racine said.
''Some people are born to push,'' Johnson said a moment later.
Growing up, Johnson would pick up boys her age and press them over her head, like barbells. She was almost freakishly muscular even as a child, recalling how her mother and her high school classmates encouraged her to show off.
''It was always, 'Go ahead, Gea, flex,' '' she said, '' 'show everybody how strong you are.' ''
Johnson spent a lifetime preparing to be an Olympic athlete, though bobsledding only entered the picture in October. Her first trip down a course was ''scary, fast and violent. My head was smashing around inside the sled and my nose was running. Then I got to the bottom and thought, 'This is great.'''
The past few weeks have done nothing to diminish the feeling.
They may look like an odd couple -- Racine is short and a brunette, Johnson is big and blonde -- but they have bonded quickly in pursuit of a common goal, becoming almost inseparable. Recently, to kill some spare time between practices in Edmonton, Canada, they went bungee-jumping while bound together.
In one of those interesting twists of fate, Davidson, the odd woman out, will be working as a forerunner on the women's Olympic bobsled course the day of the race.
Coach Bill Tavares said the team tried to have Davidson work as a forerunner during the men's race instead, but that the Salt Lake City organizers, who accorded Davidson the honor because she's a Utahn, refused to budge.
''I just sincerely hope there are no ulterior motives. If her intentions are pure,'' Johnson said, ''great.''
Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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