Jamaica Bobsled to the World…

Remember back in the early 90s when the movie Cool Runnings came out and the whole world saw Jamaica as the eternally optimistic, never-give-up underdog? That movie was made about the 4-man Jamaican bobsled team who first made it to the Winter Olympics in Calgary, 1988. Since then, the team has qualified for every Winter Olympics… until 2006. They were missing from the Winter Olympics stage again in 2010, but this year, our little bobsled team is making a gargantuan impact. Not only have they qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia, but upon the confirmation that they could earn a spot in the 2-man bobsled race, crowdfunding and grassroots supporters netted the team over US$120K in a matter of only two days.

The 3 man team, led by Winston Watts who has already been to 3 Olympics, trains in Salt Lake City, using second hand equipment. As Jamaicans know, not having access to the best things, doesn’t mean we don’t end up taking the best spots. In fact, over the years in bobsleigh events, our team has placed ahead of the US, Russia, Canada and France in Olympic races, set records for the push-start segment of the 2-man Olympic race and the Park City bobsled track, AND we’ve won gold at the World Push Championships in Monaco.

After the Jamaica Bobsleigh Association gave the word that the team was on the verge of qualifying and needed funding to make the journey a reality, donations poured in from over 52 countries and hundreds of donors in various denominations. The majority of the donations came from the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, shattering the original funding target of US$80,000 by over $40,000 with seemingly no effort at all. In a recent press conference, Christopher Stokes, one of the members of the original bobsled team and currently the General Secretary of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Association, expressed heartfelt appreciation for the world’s support, revealing some of the angst that comes along with participating in such an extraordinary sport for a tropical contender:

Every now and again we see the depth of connection that Jamaica Bobsleigh makes with individuals and organizations from all around the world. At the end of last week when news broke that the team was in good shape to qualify for the Olympic games but had outstanding obligations, the outpouring of supoprt… at a grassroots level through crowdfunding sites was absolutely tremendous, humbling, and inspiring for us, because along the way, you feel that you are on this journey by yourself and that nobody is supporting you.

We asked, but were not able to ascertain whether contributors were mostly from the diaspora, or mainly from other nationalities.

Funds raised will cover costs associated with the promotional campaign, training program leading up to the Olympics and additional equipment. The money raised in excess of the original goal will go toward future plans, including a women’s team and a junior team. Future contributions should go through their website jamaicabobsleighteam.com rather than crowdfunding sites.

We are a proud and patriotic people, us Jamaicans. We rally behind our countrymen and women, and the past several months have been amazing for our collective ego. Our internationally acclaimed sprinters, Bolt and Fraser-Pryce, our swimming phenom Alia Atkinson, vocalist extraordinaire Tessanne Chin, and now, our bobsled team all grabbing the spotlight on the international stage.

Stokes spoke highly of the current team including Winston Watts (driver), Marvin Dixon (brakeman) and Wayne Blackwood (reserved crew), who will carry the proverbial torch for the real rock into the 2014 Sochi Olympics. I asked Watts about the pressure to shine as bright as our other recent stars. Like a true champion, this was his response:

When it comes to pressure, I can control myself with that because, this is not new to me. I’ve been to 3 Olympics before and I know the standard that we are to go out there and execute. The world knows what the Jamaica team is capable of and that’s what we’re going back out there to show the world.

The 2-man bobsleigh event takes place on Feb 16 and 17. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll all be on hand to share in another victory from the little island that with every endeavor, sets out to dominate the world.