When 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: