April 1, 2002
Dreaming big got her the gold
by Deborah Stone
Inglemoor High School Assistant Principal Craig Bakken is one very proud father and he is not afraid of showing his pride or of sharing it with others.
His daughter, Jill Bakken (a graduate of Lake Washington High School), took home the gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics, held recently in Salt Lake City.
Bakken and teammate Vonetta Flowers won first place in the Premiere Women's Bobsled event, flying close to 80 miles an hour to finish with an incredible time of 1.37.76.
The pair stunned the field of competitors as they had been viewed as the "other" American team in the media's eyes prior to the event.
The favored team, Jean Racine and Gea Johnson, were expected to be the ones to beat, but Bakken and Flowers, without the attention from the media, concentrated on their training and were able to sew up the competition after their first of two runs. Racine and Johnson ended up in fifth place.
"It was such an exciting experience to be there and watch my daughter and Vonetta take the gold," comments Craig Bakken. "I can't describe the feeling! I was so happy for them.
"I've seen Jill win races before, but this was different because it was the Olympics. I was also so proud of how she handled herself, both before and after the event, because she demonstrated good sportsmanship, as well as enthusiasm for other athletes and delight in just being able to be a part of such an incredible experience.
"Her attitude, along with that of Vonetta's, obviously stood out among the other athletes, as they were both awarded the Spirit Award, an award given to the athletes that best exemplified the Olympic spirit during the Games."
Jill's athletic feat comes as no surprise to her father, nor to those who've known her over the years. She was highly coordinated and seemed to be a natural athlete at an early age, competing in soccer, basketball and downhill ski racing.
She had always dreamed of going to the Olympics and when she was a junior in high school, she considered focusing on skiing as her event of choice.
But, after learning that it would be hard for her to catch up to the competitive level she needed to be (due to the amount of time she had spent playing soccer and basketball in earlier years), she called the Luge Federation in Lake Placid.
The organization steered her toward women's bobsledding and at age 16, she applied to the U.S. Bobsledding Federation for driver training in a sport that was not yet an official event for women in the Olympics.
Initially she trained in Lake Placid and then in Calgary, but eventually went to Park City, Utah, where she now makes her home and attends the University of Utah. A track was built there in anticipation of the 2002 Olympic Games.
She became the youngest bobsledder in the history of international competition and the first U.S. woman to compete in international competition in this event in 1994.
In the eight years she has been involved with the sport, Bakken has consistently placed in the top eight in the World Cup and has contributed more to the U.S. Women's Bobsled story than any other American woman in the sport.
She persisted at a time in the history of women's bobsledding when there was little support for training or equipment, continuing to compete out of a passion for the sport.
"Jill loves the speed and the thrill of bobsledding," says her father. "She took to the sport right away and was successful right off the bat. It was a perfect match for her."
With the acquisition of the gold, Jill and Vonetta have been on a whirlwind of national talk shows, including "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Rosie," "Letterman" and "Evening Magazine."
Jill is also a member of the Army National Guard's World Class Athlete Program and in her ambassador role she is busy speaking to children and teens about setting and striving to reach their goals.
"Jill is great at this type of thing," comments Bakken. "She is an excellent role model for young people because she has this very wholesome image of an all-American girl, who with hard work and determination, was able to accomplish the goals she set. I foresee lots of interest in bobsledding among young girls now.
"In fact, at Inglemoor, I've had a number of high school girls ask me about the sport and how to get involved in it. I think it's going to be big."