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Commentary: Jamaican bobsledders slide from novelty to farce
Published on February 21, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

As a native of the Caribbean, I find nothing endearing about the way Jamaican bobsledders provided little more than tabloid fodder at that Sochi Olympic Games.

Let me hasten to clarify that I fully appreciated the novelty of having a team from one of our tropical islands participate in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada; I got the comic relief those “fish out of water” Jamaican bobsledders provided; and I got why a shrewd producer thought he could make a mint by turning their Olympic misadventure into the farcical, slapstick comedy Cool Runnings.

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
Incidentally, listening to all of the nostalgic swooning over this movie today, you’d think it reflected Jamaica’s intrinsic cool just as surely as The Comedians reflected Haiti’s terminal despair. But, as I recall, Cool Runnings portrayed the Jamaicans involved as little more than minstrel fools and made a mockery of their national pride. Imagine a feature-length episode of “Amos ‘N Andy Go to the Winter Olympics” and you’ll get the idea.

More to the point, though, Cool Runnings was based on the hapless and laughable efforts Jamaican bobsledders displayed over a quarter-century ago. Which is why, instead of laughing along with everybody else, I am constrained to wonder why the efforts Jamaican bobsledders displayed at these Games were every bit as hapless and laughable.

It’s bad enough that they became the butt of stereotypical jokes after losing their luggage en route to Sochi. Mainstream and social media alike could not resist propagating paternalistic stories about the poor, lost boys begging other teams for clothes to stay warm and equipment to compete.

The only thing missing from their condescending narrative was a story about these Jamaicans being stranded like Sochi’s stray dogs because of a mix-up with their hotel accommodations. (Or maybe I just missed it.)

Still, what I found most dispiriting was that Jamaicans bobsledders appeared to have done nothing since 1988 to make their national team anything more than an international joke. Only this explains why the difference between first and last in this event was being measured in seconds instead of hundredths, even thousandths of a second -- as should’ve been the case.

For example, after the second qualifying run in the two-man bobsled, Team Russia posted a first-place time of 1:52.82; Team Jamaica posted a last-place time of 1:57:23. The Jamaicans were spared any further embarrassment by failing to qualify to even participate in the final two runs for the medals.

Now, consider that success in bobsledding requires basically two things: strong, fast legs and upper body strength to push the high-tech, soap box-like sleds for about 40 meters to get a quick start; and steady hands to then steer it down an ice track with banking turns generating g-force acceleration up to speeds in excess of 80 mph.

You’d think Jamaican bobsledders had a national, if not a genetic, advantage in speed and strength, given the way Jamaicans have performed in sprint events since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. And Jamaicans inspired by that pioneering Cool Runnings team have now had over 25 years to develop the subtle steering skills necessary to drive like a bobsledder at the Olympics instead of like a bumper-car driver at the Carnival.

What’s more, they surely had enough time to make Jamaican participation in this sport more than the novelty it was decades ago. This novelty in Sochi went to cross-country skiers from Nepal and Dominica who finished well behind the medal winners in the Men’s 15km Classic.

But nothing betrayed just how ill prepared these Jamaicans were to compete as bona fide Olympians quite like their international pleas, just weeks before the Opening Ceremony, for money to pay for equipment and travel expenses.

Color me gullible, but I suspect that, if the Jamaican people thought for a moment that these were serious athletes who had done all of the training necessary to compete as Winter Olympians, their government (or local donors) would have spared them this indignity of going cup in hand, virtually around the world, on the eve of the Games.

Therefore, I submit that the reason for their lack of national support is that the people of Jamaica regard them as nothing more than a national embarrassment and an international joke. And so do I.

Alas, neither personal nor national pride prevented these bobsledders from parading around Sochi as if they were the unofficial mascots of these Games. Apropos of which, they are trying to justify their pitiful performance on the track by claiming, rather fatuously, that medals don’t matter because they brought so much love to Sochi.

Except that, according to reports, there’s always a “whole lotta love” going on in the Olympic village at every Olympics. The irony is that these Jamaicans probably missed out on the action because they were always too busy looking for the nearest TV camera.

But I’m sure I detected more than a little resentment in the voice of one bobsled commentator who remarked on the disconnect between people treating them like “rock stars” and what little they did to earn so much attention and adulation.

And, if a commentator was dissing them like this, just imagine the resentment of real bobsledders -- who spent years training for their moment in the sun only to have upstart Jamaicans (providing fodder for “Cool Runnings II”?) suck up all the rays.

For the record, the Russian two-man team won gold; the Swiss team, silver; and the American, bronze.
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This article is sad! It is clear that the author has not done his research. The Jamaican bobsled team is comprised of experienced athletes. The captain of the team competed in Nagano representing Jamaica. The Jamaican Bobsled team does not have the national resources that many other nations give their athletes, and it is because of this why Jamaica has a difficult time competing on a world stage. Your article would have been better served imploring caribbean nations to support winter athletes. I for one was happy to see the go for Gold and despite obstacles they did their best. Not everyone will place first. You need some sportsmanship.


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