#TBT Sports Blog: Jamaican Bobsled Team

MIKE Comic 135 Jamaican BobsledToday’s #TBT sports blog recalls a Winter Olympic Games fan favorite.

It may not have been a podium favorite in Sochi, Russia four years ago, but the Jamaican Bobsled Team was always a crowd pleaser.

Led by pilot Winston Watts, the Jamaican Team returns to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia after failing to qualify in 2006 in Torino, Italy and in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.

In spite of losing their luggage in route to Sochi, the Jamaicans have maintained their generally upbeat attitudes.  They received their runners (blades for sleds), helmets, sliding suits and shoes yesterday and immediately took to the Sanki Sliding Center for practice runs.

This is the sixth Olympics for the unlikely Winter Olympians from a Caribbean Island. The Watts’ led two-man team is excited about competing. And, an adoring public is thrilled to have the improbable bobsledders back at the games. The team raised more than $170,000 via crowd sourcing in order to come to Sochi to compete.

The Jamaicans’ story ranks as one of the most memorable in sports history, leaving no doubt why they are once again fan favorites.

Having Winter Olympic dreams when you hail from a tropical island takes plenty of guts. Known for its sandy beaches, reggae music, mountain grown coffee and bottled rum, Jamaica became the first tropical nation to field a team in an Olympic winter sport.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team Debuted in 1992 in Calgary

The Jamaican Bobsled Team debuted at the Calgary Games in Canada in 1988. They comprised a four person team with little practice, no international experience and some borrowed sleds.

Obvious underdogs, Devon Harris, Michael White, Dudley Stokes and Nelson Stokes of the Jamaican squad struggled in Calgary. They finished last among all competitors in the event, but captured the hearts of fans and the keen interest of the international media.

This unlikely bobsled team is the brainchild of American businessmen George Fitch and Michael Fennel. The two were inspired when watching Jamaica’s annual push cart derby in Kingston and quickly determined that push carting and bobsledding required similar skills.

Originally thought to be a joke, then explained as a brilliant marketing ploy, the Jamaican Bobsled Team continued to hone their craft and surprised many of those who doubted them.

Jamiacan Bobsled Team Inspired the Movie “Cool Runnings”

The Jamaicans qualified again, but performed poorly during the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. Unexpectedly, their heroic efforts and unlikely story caught the attention of Hollywood. Disney Studios told their incredible story in a popular 1993 movie called Cool Runnings, with the late actor John Candy starring as coach.

In 1994, an undaunted Jamaican Bobsled Team returned to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Here, they enjoyed their greatest international success. The team, also known as the Hottest Thing on Ice, finished 14th and bested other more heavily favored teams from the United States, Russia, France and Italy.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team has since expanded. It now features two- and four-man teams as well as a two person squad comprised of women from the Jamaican Defense Force.

Although the Jamaican Bobsled Team more than likely did not medal in Sochi, their inspiring story makes them special. They are champions at heart and reflect the true spirit of the Olympic Games.

Ya Man! These Jamaicans be jammin’.

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