Bobsledder part of Canadian history

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Shelley-Ann Brown, right, became the first black Canadian woman to win a medal at the Winter Olympics when she and Helen Upperton took silver in the women's bobsled Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010. (AL CHAREST/ QMI AGENCY)

WHISTLER, B.C. - The maple leaf on her chest and the silver medal draped alongside it are symbols of the joy now in Shelley-Ann Brown’s heart.

The Pickering, Ont. bobsledder became a significant part of Olympic history here Wednesday night, when she became one of the first black Canadian women to win a medal at a Winter Games.

Just the thought of it brought Brown to tears at a Thursday reception to honour the four Canadian women who combined for a gold-silver finish in the women’s bobsled.

“I’m so proud to be Canadian, so proud to be black, so proud to be of Jamaican heritage, so proud to be female,” Brown said, choking up. “I hope little girls in Canada see this, see what I accomplished and realize it doesn’t matter your background.

“You can do anything in sports if you work hard enough, no matter where you come from.”

With her parents, cousins and nieces lining the course at Blackcomb Mountain Wednesday night, Brown and her pilot, Helen Upperton, streaked down the Whistler Sliding Centre course second only to fellow Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse. The elation her family felt was matched by Brown as the depth of her accomplishment continued to sink in.

“I don’t want to cry, I’m sorry,” Brown said, almost losing it in an interview with QMI Agency. “But it makes me feel so good. To do this in black history month ... this is just incredible. It means a lot to my family and to my friends and to my community.”

While black athletes are much more rare in the Winter Games than in the summer, Brown is not without precedent. Fellow bobsledder Lascelles Brown won silver for Canada in Turin when he teamed with Pierre Lueders.

At Salt Lake City in 2002, Vonette Flowers becomes the first African-American in history to win Winter gold. Like Shelley and Lascelles Brown (no relation), Flowers was a former track star turned bobsledder.

“There aren’t many black athletes in the Winter Games and less so in Canada, obviously,” Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, said.

“So from that perspective it’s historically significant. I’m sure her accomplishment will be an inspiration to a lot of other athletes from a similar background. If she identifies herself as a black athlete, it means even more.”

Though she’s relatively new to winter sports, Brown is no stranger to competition. She grew up as a track athlete and in grade school routinely defeated fellow Pickering youngster Perdita Felicien, who wold become Canada’s world-champion hurdler,.

That track prowess earned her a scholarship to the University of Nebraska, where she was a teammate of Whitby Ont. native Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, a bronze medallist in women’s hurdles at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

“Looking back on my journey, it’s been an arduous one,” said Brown, who is contemplating retirement from bobsled, a sport she first took up just four years ago.

“But I’m so, so proud to be Canadian and so proud of my Jamaican heritage as well. Winning the medal for my country means so much but so does making history. It’s such an overwhelming feeling right now.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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