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February 09, 2014

After 12 Years, Jamaican Bobsledders Return to Winter Olympics

by James Brooke

A tropical nation has never won a medal in the Winter Olympics. But Jamaica’s bobsled team has become a legend for challenging snow and ice countries at their own sport.

A generation ago, the Jamaican bobsled team won fans worldwide through the Hollywood hit movie Cool Runnings.

But after competing in five Winter Olympics, the Jamaicans twice failed to qualify. For a decade, the team dropped out of sight.

Then, last month, 17 days before the start of the 2014 Olympics in Russia, the Jamaicans unexpectedly received the green light.

From their training site in Evanston, Wyoming, a rural corner of a rural American state, team members Wayne Blackwood, Winston Watts, and Marvin Dixon raised the cry: “Jamaica bobsled team: Sochi 2014, here we come!"

Now, they call themselves: Cool Runnings, The Second Generation.
Their slogan? The Hottest Thing on Ice.

At 46, team captain Winston Watts, pilot of the two-man bobsled, is a veteran of three Olympics.
 
"Age is just a number. I guarantee I tell you that. It doesn't matter how old I am, it's how you take care of your body that's for one," he said. "It's what you put into your body and day-to-day activities that you do is, you know I'm 46 year[s] old, straight, but if you look at me I look like I'm 26. So age is just a number."

To raise money, the team sent out an appeal through the Internet–something that did not exist at the time of the team’s Olympic debut in Calgary in 1988.
This time, the Jamaicans raised $180,000.

Within two weeks, the Jamaican team was on the far side of the globe from the American West–in mountains of Southern Russia.

But not all their gear came through. A snowstorm in New York, rerouted their plane to Philadelphia. Somehow, the bags with their helmets and blades got separated from the team.

Watts spent time the first days in Russian posing with tourists, talking to journalists, and buying a new mobile phone to call folks back home, many of whom remain skeptical.

“Oh man, people are always asking me if I am crazy,” Watts told VOA in Krasnaya Polana. “Why me? But I always look at myself as if I were the chosen one.”
Watts said the 1993 Cool Runnings movie continues to inspire the Jamaican team today. 

“Oh man, I love that movie. That movie is so great for Jamaica bobsled team, and for the second generation, the third generation so on. Up until today I really do watch that movie.”

And the future?

“I still plan to keep going, so we get the new generation," Watts said. "Then I fade it out and hopefully become one of the coaches.”

Eventually, the team's gear made it to southern Russia. First, Watts had to empty his helmet of protein powder. Somewhere along the line, a customs agent opened cans of powder, thinking the Jamaican team might carry something illicit.

Reunited with their gear, the Jamaicans are now back in the Olympics. They are concentrating on their Feb. 16 race date with an iced bobsled track that features 19 curves as it twists down the mountain.