KINGSTON, JAMAICA — “We are not just going there to participate.”
Defiant words of Winston Watts, the driver of Jamaica's two-man bobsled team for next month's Sochi Winter Olympics, as the tropical Caribbean nation continues its love affair with icy track for a sixth time in history.
Jamaica's Sochi qualification comes 26 years after their ground-breaking quartet of Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White, and Nelson Christian Stokes made a moving debut at the 1988 Calgary Games that inspired a movie, Cool Runnings, five years later.
“Most of those guys who were in the 1988 team were my teammates in 1994 and 1998 and they are still part of the federation,” Watts told Reuters from Jamaica's training based in Wyoming, USA on Wednesday.
The 46-year-old, who competed at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Games, said the movie left a deep impression on the mind of Jamaica's young generation.
His views were shared by Stokes, a four-time Winter Olympian, and now the general secretary of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation.
“I don't think the support for the team, like we've seen over the last three days, would have been sustainable without the ongoing appeal of the movie,” Stokes told Reuters from the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Brakesman Marvin Dixon is the second member of the two-man bobsled team.
Since confirmation of their participation came on Monday, the Jamaicans are busy trying to raise an additional $80,000 to $100,000 to fund their final preparations for Sochi.
Stokes said financial woes may not have vanished altogether but had eased at least.
“We were able to raise over $120,000 via a crowd-funding site ... which meets the immediate need. So we're grateful for that, as it puts us in very good position to get the team prepared for the Sochi Games.”
Stokes said the federation was still accepting donations and negotiating with sponsors, but as far as Sochi preparations were concerned, “the worst is behind us.”
It also helped that the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) agreed to offset the Sochi contingent's travel expenses.
“There is no question in my mind the team would not have qualified... but for the help of the Jamaica Olympic Association,” said Stoke, who will be the chef-de-mission of the contingent, also including crew member Wayne Blackwood and coach Thomas Samuel.
The Jamaicans are procuring better equipment from Germany even though they might not get to practice with it until a pre-Olympic training session in Sochi early next month.
“Equipment says a lot in bobsleighing. Once you have good equipment, anything is possible ... we can be just as competitive as the rest of the world,” said Watts.
For Stokes, a top 10 finish was a realistic target.
“Our best finish during the season has been fifth place, but when we are up against the best at the top of their game, I think if we end up in the top 10, that would be a very good result for us, realistically.
“We're on a path to get a home-grown Jamaican team on the medal podium," said Stokes. "Is it going to be Sochi 2014? I don't know, but what I can tell you is we are in the process, laying the foundation, investing in our young athletes, so that one day, sooner than later, we'll be looking at a Jamaican team on the podium in the Winter Olympics in one of the sliding sports.”