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This imbroglio proved once again that there's nothing the male-dominated media loves more than a good catfight.

Vonetta Flowers (l.) and Jill Bakken of the US during the Olympics' women's two-man bobsled final. Feb. 19, 2002. Joe Cavaretta

Catfight in Catsuits No Catastrophe for Olympic Ratings

by Amy N. Parker

MARCH 1, 2002. Like so many others, I was glued to the TV for the Olympics' first-ever women's bobsledding race. After all, what's not to love about strapping butch women in skintight Lycra pushing a sled as hard as they can, jumping in and then hurtling down an icy track at 80 miles per hour?

Well, for one thing, the endless harping on US sled driver Jean Racine's choice to replace her brakeman (even the women are called brakemen in bobsledding) and, lest the media let us forget, best friend, Jen Davidson, with the bigger, stronger Gea Johnson in hopes of improving her medal chances.

This imbroglio proved once again that there's nothing the male-dominated media loves more than a good catfight. Witness the corresponding furor over the near-collision between figure skaters Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan in a practice session at the US national figure skating championship

NBC correspondent Bonnie Warner, herself a former Olympian in luge and contender for a spot on this year's bobsled team, half-heartedly defended Racine, pointing out that the male sledders do this sort of thing all the time. They endlessly shuffle through brakemen, replacing long-time teammates with whatever muscle-bound football jock wanders over to the sled run with stars in his eyes and dreams of winter sports glory. And no one ever seems to give the men a hard time.

Warner's later comments made me wonder how much she really approved of all the sled-swapping shenanigans. When Johnson slipped during her second Olympic run with Racine, causing the team to finish a disappointing fifth, Warner made a point of mentioning that many in the bobsled world felt Racine had earned some seriously bad karma when she ditched Davidson at the side of the sled run. I couldn't help notice the apparent satisfaction with which Warner remarked that Racine's karma had seemed to come back to bite her.

The ultimate irony is that Warner's karma has done some chomping of its own. Warner originally rode with brakeman Vonetta Flowers until she herself threw over Flowers to bring on the powerful Johnson. When the karmically-challenged Racine later poached Johnson for her sled, Warner failed to make the Olympic team. Flowers, on the other hand, went on to win this year's gold with new driver-partner Jill Bakken — apparently restoring the balance of the Universe in the process.

And, if we're discussing karma, we can't leave out the men, who as Warner reminded us, fire and replace their brakemen all the time to bring on new, more promising muscle. Maybe the accumulated bad mojo is the real reason the US men suffered a 46-year medal drought in the sport.

Thankfully, this latest reminder that Olympic politics goes far beyond Cold War-style voting blocks in figure skating did not overshadow Bakken and Flowers' winning performance. They slid down the mountain ahead of the heavily-favored German team (as well as their ill-fated teammates Racine and Johnson) to win. And, as the newscasters pointed out, Flowers was not only the first African-American man or woman, but also the first black person from any country, to win a gold medal in what surely must be the whitest of all sporting events, the Winter Olympics.

Related links:

For USA Bobsled 2002, official home of bobsled and skeleton in the United States.

For info on the care and feeding of Cats.

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