Olympic women's bobsledding silver medalist Valerie Fleming is "pretty heartbroken" that a pulled right hamstring kept her off the U.S. roster for next month's Vancouver Games, but will continue rehabilitating in case a spot opens up on the team.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press from Igls, Austria, on Tuesday, Fleming said she was in position to make the team after winning a pair of brakeman race-offs in recent weeks against Emily Azevedo. But she reaggravated the hamstring — which was first hurt in the World Cup opener at Park City, Utah, in November — on the next-to-last step of that second race-off.
And that, she said, was the reason why the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation couldn't put her on the Olympic team.
"I'm pretty heartbroken about it," Fleming said. "The selection committee said it was too much of a risk. It's hard. I understand I got injured, but I also felt like there was enough time that there could be an evaluation process, but there would be no guarantees — they never are with even healthy athletes — and I know I am more of an inherent risk because I already have an issue."
Azevedo, Michelle Rzepka and Elana Meyers were chosen as push athletes for the Olympic team, all three of those women having learned plenty from Fleming over the past three seasons. There are no alternates, so barring injury, Fleming's hope of rejoining pilot Shauna Rohbock in the sled that won silver at the Turin Games is over.
Fleming doesn't know if she'll race next year either, so at 33, the Vancouver Olympics likely were her last chance at gold.
"It really was a heartwrenching reality that we faced, not just myself but all the members of the committee," USBSF CEO Darrin Steele said. "We do know just how much she means to the sport and how she's helped grow it and change it and raise the bar. It was one of the toughest conversations that I ever had when we brought Valerie in, sat her down and discussed the decision."
Fleming and Rohbock won at least 22 international medals together, including three World Cup golds, and had long established themselves as the best duo in the U.S. women's program.
For Fleming, that's one of the hardest parts of the injury, not getting the chance to experience another Olympics with one of her closest friends. Rzepka will push for Rohbock at the Whistler Sliding Center.
"I think after I got injured, I kind of thought that if I did make the team, chances were the coaches still wouldn't put me with Shauna anyway," Fleming said. "Mickie, who's been pushing with Shauna, has done a great job. She's earned her spot and I respect her for that and can't take anything away from her for how well she's done. But it's hard."
Either way, Fleming is going to the Olympics, possibly just as a fan. She's even with the team for its World Cup season finale in Igls this week, essentially reduced to the role of cheerleader.
She will continue trying to get the hamstring stronger as well, just in case something happens to someone already on the Olympic roster.
"Look at the bright side," Fleming said. "Maybe now I can enjoy a few more events."