SALT LAKE CITY, UT—Olympic bobsledders Jean Racine and Gea Johnson have two major goals for the Salt Lake City Games. The first is to win the gold medal. The second is to let young girls know that they, too, can pursue their bobsled dreams.
"When I was growing up, little girls were encouraged to participate in sports like tennis and basketball, but never bobsledding," said Racine, 23, driver of the American women's two-person sled. "Well, I want that to change that for the next generation. I want to be the person today's young girls can look to and say to themselves, 'Hey, I can bobsled if I want to.'"
"One day," Racine continued, "people will see women bobsledders as bobsledders first and women second."
Johnson, the team's brakewoman, echoed Racine's sentiments.
"There has always been this assumption—and I don't know where it comes from—that girls aren't interested in bobsledding," the 34-year-old Johnson said. "I can remember, as a third-grader, telling my gym teacher that when I grew up, I wanted to be a bobsledder. He said, 'Why the hell would you want to do that?'"
Salt Lake City 2002 is the first Olympics to feature women's bobsledding as a medal event. As thrilled as Racine and Johnson would be to win that first-ever gold, just having the chance to serve as role models for the female bobsledders of tomorrow means as much to them.
"We have to be worthy ambassadors of bobsledding," Racine said. "We have to represent the sport well and be the kind of bobsledders today's young girls can aspire to be like. That's a heavy responsibility, but I feel up to the task."
Johnson said parents can play a vital role in opening up the bobsled doors for their daughters.
"Usually, parents let their little girls sled until they're a certain age, and then it's suddenly discouraged," Johnson said. "Boys can go on and become bobsledders, and that's okay with everyone. We have to let our girls know that there's nothing wrong with wanting to bobsled."
"Sports are so good for girls, particularly a sport like bobsledding," Racine said. "I've learned so much from it: how to be competitive, how to work hard, how to not give up. Bobsledding is like life: The harder you push at the beginning, the faster the ride is all the way down."