No one has ever doubted Jamaica’s ability to field world-class athletes, but the names of Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White and Nelson Stokes have gone down in the annals of sports history as icons of determination and inspiration. The four men came to international prominence as the founders of the first Jamaican Bobsled Team, making their first ever debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Harris was a middle distance runner serving in the military when he found an advertisement seeking members to make up a Jamaican Bobsled Team. The final roster consisted of Harris, a lieutenant in the Jamaican army, Stokes, a captain in the air wing, White, who was a private in the Reserves. The fourth member, railway engineer Samuel Clayton, suffered an injury prior to the competition and Stokes’ brother was called upon to fill his position.
The team had virtually no experience or practice on a bobsled track and had to borrow Olympic-sanctioned sleds from other Olympic competitors. They quickly became the underdog favorites of fans and a symbol of international cooperation and sportsmanship.
Their endeavor won the hearts of an international community, but during one of their runs, the team suffered a horrendous crash at 85 M.P.H. that prevented their participation. The 1993 motion picture, “Cool Runnings”, was a loose representation of the team’s bid for glory that utilized actual footage of the crash.
The Jamaican team was the first from the island nation to compete in a cold weather sporting event. They returned to the games in 1992, but did poorly and failed to qualify. They competed again in 1994 and created an international sensation when they placed 14th, ahead of countries that traditionally excelled in winter sports, including Australia, France, Italy, Russia and the U.S.
That win gave the team the courage to continue and they entered the 2000 World Push Championships in Monaco where they won the event’s gold medal. The names of the team members have changed over the years, but Jamaican determination never faltered.
The 2002 Winter Olympics featured the two-man team of Winston Watt and Lascelles Brown, who succeeded in setting the bobsled track record in Park City. Watt and Brown went on to set an Olympic record of 4.78 seconds for the push-start portion of the competition, but the team failed to qualify for the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics.
Since the Jamaican Bobsled Team’s debut in 1998, members have included Innes Sandy, Jason Zimmer, Clive McDonald and manager, Stephen Fisher. Current team members are Marvin Dixon, Sam Thomasi, Joel Alexander, Rindy Loucks, and manager Jassica Thomas.
Of the original founding members, Devon Harris retired from the military, became a motivational speaker and released his first children’s book in 2008, entitled “Yes, I Can!: The Story of the Jamaican Bobsled Team”. Michael White retired and is employed as a manager in the retail industry in New York.
Nelson Stokes is now the Vice-President of Business Development at the Victoria Mutual Building Society. He’s been the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation president since 1995 and is the author of “Cool Runnings and Beyond – The Story of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team”. Dudley Stokes manages the Jamaican National Bobsled Federation and lives in Jamaica.
What began as an impossible dream in 1998 became a rallying point in the Olympic Games and a source of national pride for Jamaica, bringing new interest to the sport. The founding members of the Jamaica Bobsled Team proved that no dream is impossible, providing an ongoing reservoir of international goodwill and a model of success for nations around the world.