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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 13:19 GMT

The girl who would do anything for gold

By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce

Who said the Olympics was all about taking part?

Not for the American women's bobsleigh team, it isn't.

Meet 'Mean Jean' Racine, also known as the Ice Princess and the driver of the USA-1 bob in Salt Lake City.

Racine is the living, breathing, sliding definition of the modern sportswoman - ultra-competitive, ultra-focused and prepared to do anything to lay her hands on a gold medal.

"I did what I had to do"
Jean Racine

Until late last December, Racine formed one of the sport's most tight-knit partnerships with brakewoman Jen Davidson.

For the past two years, the pair had been the world's top team, winning two world championships, two World Cup titles and practically every event they entered.

Out of the bob, they were inseparable, friends so close that during conversations they often finished each other's sentences.

When Racine's mother Cathy died last May after a kidney transplant failure, Davidson nursed her friend through her grief.

They were the good-looking glamour twins who attracted huge amounts of media attention in the States, visiting President Bush at the White House and picking up endorsements worth over 350,000.

Then, without explanation, it all began to go wrong. And when it did, Racine was quick to act.

Having looked like red-hot favourites for gold, their form went out of the window.

They finished 11th in a World Cup race in Austria - and Racine, faced with the possibility of missing out on her childhood dream of an Olympic medal, made her fateful decision.

With Davidson abroad, she simply left a message on her pal's answerphone to say that her services were no longer required.

"I did what I had to do," she said, flatly.

Davidson was stunned. "Jean did a good job of deceiving me that we were a team," she said.

"To me that meant I would rather have finished last with her than win a gold by myself. I was naive."

No matter that male bobsledders have been switching brakemen before big competitions for years. This was different.

Racine had chosen as her new team-mate a convicted drug-user with a physique muscular enough to make most male athletes jealous.

Gea Johnson, a former heptathlete who served a four-year ban for steroid abuse, appeared on the Jay Leno Show last week to show off her muscles.

"I can't even believe this is an issue," she said.

"This is a sport. It's not a marriage. It's our job to be the best athletes we can be and put together the best team for the United States."

Stunned, Davidson briefly disputed Racine's decision, but withdrew a grievance after two days of testimony at an arbitration hearing.

She has now severed all ties with Racine, and the two don't even speak.

"There was never a choice of success or a friendship," protested Racine.

"It was a very hard thing to do. There were moments where I thought, 'Yeah, I can bring my best friend to the Games. We could win. I could do it.'

"But that wouldn't have been right. So I made the change, and I'm very glad that I did it.

More than friendship

"Before the marketing, before the money, there has to be performance - and we weren't winning.

"I knew making the change was going to cost more than just my friendship. I stand to lose a lot of money, a lot of marketing things that were set up.

"But to me, winning the medal was more important than all those things. I'm not going to let anything stop me from trying to win a medal."

On Monday it looked briefly as if Racine's decision would come back to haunt her.

Johnson sustained a slight hamstring injury that threatened to rule her out of the races - and Davidson was touted as a possible replacement.

"I'll do whatever the team needs," said Davidson, who is in Salt Lake as a forerunner, checking out the course for her team-mates.

No choice

But Racine poured cold water on those comeback hopes, insisting Johnson would be fit.

"She's my girl," she said. "We're going for it."

Racine has also had to deal with the fact that her father, David, has just been charged with criminal sexual conduct and sexually abusive behaviour with a child.

"It's really surprising what you can make yourself handle when you don't have a choice," she said.

"If I don't win a medal, which by the way, isn't likely, I would be OK. I would be content that I did everything I could to win.

"I think after what I've dealt with this year, the competition is going to be easiest part of it."


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