Womens' bobsled continues tradition of soap type drama

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

PARK CITY, Utah -- We're not supposed to say "serves you right'' in sports.

At the Olympics or anywhere else people put everything they have into something and don't get what they want in return, it is considered shallow and petty and just plain mean to suggest that there are greater injustices in the world.

Every non-victory is supposed to be viewed as a new tragedy, every athlete who comes up just short ostensibly entitled to the counter-Warholian 15-minutes of sympathy.

So we shouldn't say there are worse things than Jean Racine not winning a medal in women's bobsleigh at the 2002 Winter Olympics Tuesday.

Even when we're talking about someone who was so singularly fixed on winning that she didn't mind sacrificing her closest friendship to try. Even when we have here an athlete who dumped her partner two weeks before the Olympic trials, after the two had been teammates for four years, were best friends and had won the last two World Cup championships together.

Suddenly, the times weren't as good anymore. So Jen Davidson, who pushed for the sled Racine drove, was dumped faster than the final turn at Utah Olympic Park. Even though teams go through slumps the same way friendships do and the best of them come out on the other end, better for the effort it took to get there.

Racine couldn't be bothered waiting to see how far she and Davidson could go once it looked like somebody faster had come along.

And we're not supposed to see some fitting justice in her finishing fifth Monday, when another American team won the gold in the first Olympic women's bobsleigh competition. That's not supposed to seem somehow appropriate.

Even when we're talking about an athlete who put herself in front of her own sport, bringing controversy to women's bobsleigh before it reached the Olympic course. Racine and Davidson were going to be part of the personality of these Games, the inseparable Jean and Jen, who had already appeared on a cereal box and in a "Got Milk?'' ad.

But wholesomeness was forfeited in a rare act of athletic greed trumping advertising.

Still, we're not supposed to mention that great athletes can do bad things or that sometimes winning isn't all there is. We're supposed to view such dedication as a virtue instead.

Even when you have an athlete who, knowing the consequences of what she wanted to do did it anyway, triggering a game of dissention dominos throughout the U.S. bobsleigh team and leaving the person responsible for her being an Olympian without a ride.

When Racine wanted a new pusher, she took Bonnie Warner's. And all Warner had done was spend a decade of her life campaigning to get women's bobsleigh into the Olympics. She went to the trials anyway, with somebody else behind her and finished third with two Olympic spots available.

Gea Johnson, a former track athlete once suspended four years for using steroids, joined Racine in December. Then she showed up at the Olympics injured, couldn't give the push that was expected Tuesday and went along for the ride on an also-ran sled.

So it didn't work out as well as Racine had hoped when she stepped all over a lot of other people's hopes on the way to Salt Lake.

And now she's left without a medal, without her best friend and without the honor of having tried to fight through a challenge instead of looking for a faster way around it.

You can look at Racine as a victim, even without the poor showing Tuesday.

Within months last year she lost her mother and grandmother. Her father has been charged with sexual assault. And she didn't file the protest that turned the Olympics' newest sport into an episode of As the Sled Turns. Davidson did.

But it all started when Racine chose performance over loyalty. Her search for a better push was the impetus that made women's bobsleigh the ugliest scene outside of pairs figure skating.

It's been a painful slide from the top not too long ago for Racine. She reached the bottom Tuesday, a little too late for an Olympic medal and not a second too soon for her controversy to end.

And that's a shame really, something that you don't wish on anyone.

But you know what? Now that it's happened, it kind of serves her right.

Savannah Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera is part of a Morris News Service team covering the 2002 Winter Olympics. He can be reached at guidera@hotmail.com.

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