Friday, December 9, 2022

Jamaican bobsled team inspires new generation at Beijing Games

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Six athletes actualized Fitch’s imaginative and prescient. Although they by no means reached a medal podium, they spawned a surprisingly sturdy legacy and impressed the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings.” Nearly 30 years after the film’s launch, one other four-man Jamaican bobsled team has certified for the Winter Olympics in Beijing, inviting inevitable comparisons to the film and the true story that impressed it.

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“This Jamaican bobsled team was a real thing,” former coach Howard Siler mentioned in “Breaking the Ice,” a 2014 documentary in regards to the team. “It was the real deal. It was blood, sweat, and tears; historic athletes.”

When Fitch got down to assemble the team, he tried to recruit Jamaican athletes making ready for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul however was dismissed. He reached out to sports activities golf equipment in Kingston and posted newspaper adverts. When he hosted an open tryout, he netted fishermen and road distributors, with some athletes sprinkled all through the gang.

“What saved me was going to Kenny Barnes,” Fitch beforehand instructed ESPN, referencing the previous Jamaican army officer. “He didn’t laugh this thing off and dismiss me out of hand. He had Major George Henry from the Jamaica Defence Force there. When I said I needed speed to push, he looked over at Henry and said, ‘Hey, George, who’s our current sprint champion?’ and he said Mike White. Likewise with Devon Harris, who was 800 meters. I said it took good hand-eye coordination to drive the sled. He said, ‘Like a helicopter pilot?’ So, same thing, he turns to George and says who’s our helicopter pilot, he says Dudley Stokes. So there you had the three principal members of the Jamaica bobsled team.”

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White, an infantry signalman, was already coaching for the Summer Olympics. He favored the concept of competing in each the Winter and Summer Games.

A colonel recognized Harris throughout a cross-country race. Harris completed 14th out of 40, however his superior favored what he noticed and pushed him to check out.

Stokes performed soccer and ran observe as a boy, dreaming of representing Jamaica on the worldwide stage, though he deserted these hopes when he joined the army at 18. There, he discovered to fly planes and helicopters. After a buddy defined bobsledding, he was intrigued to attempt it.

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“The most interesting thing to me was that [the sled] had to be driven,” Stokes mentioned in a current phone interview. “I said to myself: ‘That will be interesting. Can I drive this?’”

Caswell Allen, a pupil and sprinter, and Freddie Powell, a reggae musician and electrician, additionally made the lower. Stokes’s youthful brother, Chris, a former University of Idaho sprinter, later joined the team and took part within the four-man race.

Two months after Fitch hatched the concept for a Jamaican bobsled team — and 4 months earlier than the 1988 Winter Games — he flew the athletes to Lake Placid, N.Y., the place Siler taught them easy methods to stroll on ice and push their borrowed sled. When the group returned to Kingston, they continued to coach at the military base with a makeshift sled, training for 3 hours each weekday afternoon and one other six hours every Saturday morning.

Per International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation necessities, the team needed to take part in a World Cup occasion to qualify for the Olympics. Five weeks earlier than the Games began, the Jamaicans competed in a two-man World Cup race in Innsbruck, Austria, ending higher than 4 groups.

Ten days earlier than the Games, the International Olympic Committee blocked Jamaica’s entry, claiming the team was not prepared for competitors. Fitch made a number of calls, together with one to Prince Albert II of Monaco, vice chairman of the IOC, and fewer than per week later, the committee reversed its resolution.

In Calgary, the Jamaican bobsledders acquired a heat reception throughout the Opening Ceremonies. They completed thirtieth out of 40 groups within the two-man bobsled competitors, entered the four-man race for which they hadn’t practiced, and crashed, stopping them from formally ending.

“This was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I hit my head really hard. I saw stars and saw my life flashing before my eyes,” Dudley Stokes mentioned. “I was afraid to go back to Jamaica because there had been mixed feelings about us. A lot of people thought this was a lark, a rich pursuit of privileged people.”

The bobsledders felt dejected. Fitch thought they had been lifeless. But when the team emerged from the overturned sled to stroll it throughout the end line, the gang greeted it with cheers and applause. To his shock, Stokes mentioned, Jamaica was in a frenzy.

“They thought what we tried was just completely in the spirit of the Jamaican people, so that was a relief,” he mentioned. “It reinforced my resolve to become a better bobsledder.”

Fitch, Maloney and the 1988 team members collectively bought the rights to their story to Disney, whose closely fictionalized retelling, “Cool Runnings,” turned a field workplace hit. The film helped entice company sponsorship for the team, which had bought T-shirts and its personal reggae music to assist maintain it in Calgary. But the movie’s comedian tone and character depictions irked the individuals who impressed it.

“He was disappointed that Disney decided to make the movie a sort of comical situation as opposed to how serious their accomplishments were,” Siler’s spouse, Debra, instructed the Los Angeles Times in his 2014 obituary. “There were scenes that made them look cutesy, silly.

“Howard said the guys were fun and easygoing, but they were serious, which is the reason he accepted the job. And they were committed with more heart and soul than any athlete he ever coached.”

Fitch, who additionally died in 2014, described the movie to ESPN as “an embarrassment.”

That discontent has subsided for some team members, who look extra favorably upon the movie’s broader message and take its comedian gildings in stride.

“They did a good job in depicting the spirit of the team,” Harris mentioned in “Breaking the Ice.” “It’s obviously a comedy. They took a lot of poetic license. They stretched some truth or made up some to make it funny.”

Stokes made some extent to not watch the film after sitting for its Austrian premiere in 1994, however a number of years later, his youngsters uncovered a video copy of their residence whereas he was at work. They had been shocked and thrilled, so Stokes sat to observe the movie with them and got here to understand it as a youngsters’s film that captured “a certain spirit of what we did.”

Four years after their Winter Olympic debut, Harris, White and the Stokes brothers returned to the Olympics in 1992 in Albertville, France. A four-man team comprising the Stokes brothers, White and Ricky McIntosh positioned twenty fifth.

The Stokes brothers additionally guided the four-man team that completed 14th at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, besting the United States, Russia and France, amongst others. They returned with Harris to Nagano, Japan, in 1998, though they by no means once more reached their 1994 Olympic apex.

Members of the 1988 team remained concerned with the nation’s bobsled program by fundraising or supporting present athletes. Dudley Stokes coached the bobsled program in 2002, when Jamaica fielded a two-man team in Salt Lake City. He helped handle the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation in 2006, though the nation didn’t take part within the Turin Games, and returned to assist Jamaica’s first girls’s team — the two-woman tandem of Carrie Russell and Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian — place 18th at the 2018 Games in PyeongChang.

Stokes was much less concerned throughout this Olympic cycle, however he helped recruit Shanwayne Stephens, the pilot of Jamaica’s present four-man team, which later this week would be the nation’s first to compete within the Olympics since Nagano. Stephens and Nimroy Turgott are additionally set to compete starting Monday in a two-man sled. Fenlator-Victorian, who certified for the ladies’s monobob, additionally competed in Beijing, as did Benjamin Alexander, the nation’s first Olympic Alpine skier, whom Stokes mentors.

Since the 1988 team members retired from competitors, a new generation of Jamaican Winter Olympians has sought to construct on the team’s basis. It’s in that evolution that Stokes sees the 1988 team’s legacy stored alive, and the place present Olympians base their ambitions and expectations.

“[Twenty-eight] years ago, the four-man team finished 14th,” Matthew Wekpe, a brakeman for the present four-man team, instructed British media final month. “That’s our aim, if we can better that. You know we want to get the gold … but I think for us that’s important that we show progression as a nation, and beating 14th would be amazing for us.”

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