On This Day In Jamaican History: First Jamaican Men’s Bobsled Team

On February 27, 1988, the first Jamaican men’s bobsled team made its first competitive run at the Calgary Winter Olympic Games. The idea for a Jamaican bobsled team had its origins with George B. Fitch, a businessman who served as the commercial attaché for the American embassy in Kingston from 1985 to 1986, and William Malone. who proposed the idea after seeing a local pushcart derby in the Blue Mountains. The president of the Jamaica Olympic Association was in favor of the idea and began preparation and asking for athletes to join the team. As the sport was described as “dangerous and rigorous,” however, few people signed up, so volunteers from the Jamaica Defense Force were requested, and the first team members – Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris, and Michael White – were named. Casewell Allen was added later. The team was coached by The team was coached by Howard Siler, an American Olympic bobsledder in 1972 and 1980. Bobsledding was thought to be a perfect winter sport for Jamaicans as it played to their strength in sprinting. Fitch invested $92,000 of his own money for the training of the team, which went to Austria to participate in a World Cup race and to meet the requirements of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. The team’s participation in the Winter Olympics was called into question when the International Olympic Committee would not allow Jamaica to compete. It took an intervention from Prince Albert of Monaco, who reminded the Committee that the Jamaicans had met all conditions and could not be left out of the Games “because you think they’re a bunch of clowns,'” Fitch said. The story of a bobsled team from a tropical island appealed to the public’s imagination, and Jamaica’s team quickly became the ultimate underdog and a favorite at the 1988 Winter Games. The team’s experiences getting to and competing in the Calgary Games became the basis for the hit Hollywood film, “Cool Runnings” in 1993.