Originally created 02/22/06

America's sliding soldier wins silver



CESANA, Italy - Shauna Rohbock shivered as she grabbed the American flag and draped it around her shoulders, temporary shelter from the frosty mountain air.

This wasn't any U.S. athlete using the Stars and Stripes as a prop in some post-race celebration for TV.

This, was a proud American soldier. And now, Olympic medalist.

"It's an amazing thing to win a medal for your country," she said. "We have the most beautiful flag, and I wanted to be wrapped in it."

Blasting down an Alpine slide in a shiny, dark American convertible, Rohbock won a silver medal in women's bobsled on Tuesday, finally ending an 0-for-Olympics stay for the U.S. sliding teams.

With roommate Valerie Fleming providing the push and applying the brakes, Rohbock completed her four runs down the track faster than everyone but gold-medal winners Sandra Kiriasis and Anja Schneiderheinze of Germany.

Gerda Weissensteiner and Jennifer Isacco of Italy won the bronze, touching off some serious partying by the host country.

Rohbock, too, wanted to celebrate. The multi-sport star got dumped from her Olympic ride four years ago, and not long after that, she was nearly deployed to Iraq as a member of the Utah National Guard.

She had packed her bags, ready to serve her country when a torn rotator cuff - the result of an old soccer injury - kept her home and eventually landed her back behind the controls of a bobsled.

"Luckily for me," she said. "I thought I was done."

Rohbock, a brakeman before learning to drive after she was bounced from the U.S. team's No. 2 sled in 2002, finally ended a U.S. winless streak that chilled the Americans every bit as much as the biting winds blowing down from France.

The U.S. had been shut out in the first six sliding events on the 19-curve course, which had proved treacherous for many countries and thorny to the U.S. luge, skeleton and bobsled squads.

But Rohbock and Fleming busted through the ice for the Americans, and as they crossed the finish line, the pair threw their hands high in the air before Rohbock happily pounded on the cowl of USA-1.

At the Salt Lake City Games, Rohbock spent most of the Olympics alongide the track as a cheerleader. On the eve of women making their bobsled debut, Rohbock, who had spent two years pushing Jill Bakken's sled, was replaced following a push-off by Vonetta Flowers, another college track star.

Bakken and Flowers went on to win gold, beating Kiriasis, known then as Sandra Prokoff.

Rohbock had been left out in the cold. Her lone Olympic moment in Utah came as a forerunner, one of the test sleds sent down first to make sure the track is safe. When Bakken and Flowers won, Rohbock was one of the first to greet them.

This time, Flowers was the one standing and cheering as Rohbock skidded through the snowy finish area.

"I always wanted to be a driver from the beginning," Rohbock said. "I didn't like being a brakeman because I like to be in control."

The mother of twin boys, Flowers came up more than a second and several spots in the standings short of her bid to add a matching gold medal. She and Jean Prahm could do no better than sixth in USA-2.

It wasn't for a lack of effort, however. Prahm, who began the day in ninth, picked off three sleds on her third run but was doomed by a sloppy first trip when she clanged off the wall in turn 16 and lost several tenths of a second she could never make up.

Flowers, who four years ago became the first black athlete to medal in the Winter Games, now plans to take a turn behind the wheel. She's going to attend a bobsled driving school in Lake Placid, N.Y., next month.

"It's been an awesome experience," she said. "It's an honor and a privilege to represent your country at the Olympics."

Prahm's plans aren't as clear. For the second time, the woman dubbed "Mean Jean" for kicking a teammate from her sled before the 2002 Games, has left an Olympics without a medal around her neck.

Before she could address her future, Flowers cut her off: "Keep your eyes open. You never know."

That could be the title of Rohbock's autobiography.

Following her Salt Lake City snub, she switched from the sled's rear passenger seat to the driver's spot. Early on, she struggled to keep the sled straight, and at times, even upright. She crashed on the first run of the 2004 World Cup season and again during a practice run at the 2005 world championships.

It was during a World Cup race in Lake Placid that her Olympic dream was nearly snuffed out for good. Rohbock received a phone call from a sergeant who ordered her to report for active duty.

Suddenly her athletic career, or so she thought, was over. But a physical revealed the bum shoulder on the two-time soccer and track All-American from BYU.

As a kid, she dreamed of representing the U.S. in the Olympics. Once, while watching the games on TV, she turned and told her mom and said, "Someday, I'll be in those."

"I dreamed I would win a medal," she said. "I just thought it would be in soccer. Now, I really don't care what sport it's in."