Jamaican Bobsled Team qualifies and raises Funds for Sochi Winter Olympics

jamaica-bobsled-teamWhen the subject of Jamaica and the Olympics comes up, the first thing that most people think about is their sprinting prowess, which has produced greats like Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Strangely enough, Jamaica’s bobsled team is not totally irrelevant on the Olympic scene either. Thanks to the 1993 film Cool Runnings and a catchy soundtrack, the world learned some interesting half-truths about how a warm-weather country like Jamaica can still compete in Winter Olympic sports.

This year, they’ll be sending their first bobsledding team to the Winter Olympics since 2002. And it certainly wasn’t easy because Jamaica had to go beyond just qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Unlike more privileged countries such as the United States, this Caribbean nation doesn’t have a bottomless coffer of funds for Olympic athletes. As Jamaican bobsled pilot Winston Watts said, they needed money to fly to Sochi and get their equipment to Russia as well. So the formerly retired Watts, who self-funded much of the team’s costs up until 2002, embarked on a quest to raise at least $80,000 for the trip.

His prayers were quickly answered when Jamaican Olympic officials and the Sochi Organizing Committee said that they could cover most of the expenses. Watts and the team got lots more money from fundraising sites like CrowdTilt ($122,000), Dogecoin ($30,000) and Indiegogo ($40,000). Thanks to all of the extra money, Jamaica’s Olympic bobsled team will have lots of cash left over for future Olympic events too.

Those who’ll be comprising the team consist of Watts, brakeman Marvin Dixon, backup Wayne Blackwood, coach Thomas Samuel and mission chief Chris Stokes. The latter is quite an interesting story because Stokes was on the 1988 Jamaican Olympic team that went to Calgary and served as the inspiration for Cool Runnings.

The movie is loosely based on the real story, with fictional two-time Olympic gold medal winner Irv Blizter (John Candy) serving as the coach. Blizter was disgraced after cheating in the 1972 Winter Olympics and moved to Jamaica to hide out. When approached by two athletes about forming a bobsled team, the trio recruits two more athletes and they set out to raise money for the trip to Calgary.

In the real story, there was no disgraced American coach leading the team, and members of other national teams didn’t treat the Jamaicans with disrespect either. Instead, the coach was reputable 5-time US champion Howard Siler, and several other teams actually lent equipment to Siler and the Jamaican athletes.

Another highly fictional part from the movie is the ending scene, where, after the team crashes, they pick up the sled and carry it across the finish line. In reality, a track crew pushed the sled across the finish line following the accident. You can check out a trailer of the film below:

Jamaican Sprinters test Positive for Stimulants, then get Raided

asafa-powell-oxilofrineOver the past five years, Jamaica has come to dominate the sprinting world thanks to the efforts of men like Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nesta Carter as well as women like Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart and Veronica Campbell-Brown. However, the Jamaican sprinting team suffered a black eye recently after Powell and Simpson tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrine.

Powell and Simpson tested positive at the Jamaican Championships last month and were just recently notified. This is interesting timing seeing as how American 100-meter record holder Tyson Gay admitted that he failed a drug test for oxilofrine.

A day after the failed tests, Italian police raided Lignano (Northeast Italy) hotel rooms where Powell and Simpson were staying. Police searched both the sprinters’ rooms as well as the place where trainer Christopher Xuereb was staying. Supplements and unidentified substances were confiscated at the scene and police have yet to confirm whether anything illegal was found.

Police captain Antonio Pisapia told the press, “We are examining the substances now. No arrests have been made and nobody has been placed under investigation.” The Jamaican athletes were in Lignano for a track meet that’s been scheduled for tonight.

sherone-simpsonBefore Usain Bolt came along, Asafa Powell was widely regarded as the world’s best sprinter. He held the 100-meter world record from 2005 to 2008, with times of 9.74 and 9.77 during this span. The 30-year-old had lots of success in international competitions, but failed to do anything at the Olympics on an individual level. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, he was on Jamaica’s 4 x 100-meter relay team that won the gold medal and set a world record.

As for Simpson, she won a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics as part of the 4 x 100-meter relay team. She also earned a pair of silver medals in the individual 100 meters in ’08, and in the 4 x 100 relay at the 2012 London Olympics.

Neither Powell nor Simpson have admitted to knowingly taking the banned substances. “I assure you that we will find out how this substance passed our rigorous internal checks and balances and design systems to make sure it never happens again,” said Powell. “My attitude towards doping regulations and testing is well-known and I willingly give samples whenever requested. This result has left me completely devastated in many respects.”

Simpson also commented by saying, “This is a very difficult time for me. … My team and I will try to do everything we can to get this issue dealt with as best as we can.”

As for Oxilofrine, this is a stimulant that was developed to treat hypertension (low blood pressure). However, some supplement companies have also used small amounts of the amphetamine because of its proposed fat-burning potential. Experts contend that using Oxilofrine can increase an athlete’s adrenaline, exercise endurance, focus, alertness and heart rate.

Given the fact that Powell, Simpson and Gay have all tested positive for Oxilofrine, this substance is only likely to gain more exposure throughout the track and field world. But as these three athletes found out, Oxilofrine is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned substances.