There are two kinds of people in Salt Lake City: those who are
going to root for U.S. bobsledder Jean Racine today, and those
who aren't. Put me in the group that hopes she finishes dead
Racine, as you may know, is the delightful young woman who two
months ago ditched her best friend and bobsled partner, Jen
Davidson, to better her chances for an Olympic medal. Racine did
the breakup the new-fashioned way: She left a phone message.
Racine is a driver and Davidson a brakeman, and drivers switch
brakemen routinely. This, though, was no ordinary relationship.
Jen and Jean--as they were so sweetly packaged for the media--had
been competing together since they met at Lake Placid in 1996.
They were passionate sledders, and their on-track successes and
off-track visibility helped lead the IOC to grant women's bobsled
Olympic status in '99. To celebrate, Racine and Davidson bought
matching gold bands and had them engraved with the words WE DID
Together they won the World Cup in 2000 and 2001 and emerged as
the inseparable darlings of their sport. Then, Davidson faltered.
The brakeman is primarily responsible for pushing the sled off
the start line, and when a poor start caused the pair to finish
11th in a World Cup race last November, Racine became concerned.
A month later she dropped Davidson for pusher Gea Johnson, a
recent convert to bobsledding with a previous career as a
heptathlete that included the 1990 NCAA championship and a
four-year ban by the IAAF, track and field's international
governing body, for a positive steroid test.
"I thought I could just bring my best friend to the Games. We
wouldn't win, but I could do it," said Racine explaining her
decision. "But that wouldn't be right. I wasn't going to let
anything stop me from trying to win a medal."
Racine is mistaking the Olympics for what they are, not what they
should be. I would like to think that there's some vestige of
purity in the Games, that away from dopers and dubious judges and
organizers on the take, there are some athletes that hew to a
higher ideal. We're complicit in creating Racine, of course, in
the way we publicize the medals standings and exhort "our"
athletes to go for gold. Yet some of us remember what we learned
in kindergarten, that friendship should come before winning.
Racine could be a compelling story today. (The competition begins
at 4:30.) She endured great personal loss last May when her
mother, Cathy, who was 47, died of scleroderma, a rare
connective-tissue disorder. Racine will be sledding today for the
red-white-and-blue, and she'll be sledding for her mom. Those in
her corner might say that ditching Davidson was simply Racine
being true to her discipline and doing what she felt she had to
do to be the best bobsledder.
This could have been a Hallmark moment for Racine, and in one
respect it still is. Whether she wins a medal at Utah Olympic
Park this afternoon or whether she tries her best and fails, my
opinion of her won't change. Either way, she is already a
loser. --Kostya Kennedy
COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/ALLSPORT Racine (left) and Davidson: Close didn't count.