Olympics and Paralympics

BOBSLEIGH | The Jamaican Team ‘So Much More’ than a Cool Runnings Reboot

“We’re actually fierce competitors and we’re out there to do really well and to put on a really good performance at the Games.” ―Shanwayne Stephens, Jamaican bobsleigh pilot.

It’s that time every four years when the niche sport of bobsleigh is broadcast all over the world, in this case from the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

And there is a team which is making a special appearance. 

Jamaica’s Olympic appearances are particularly endearing to many who have seen the film Cool Runnings (1993), a sports comedy very loosely based on the real story of the Jamaican team debuting at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. (Watch the movie’s trailer here.)

At the time perceived as the underdogs coming from a country that has no snow, and following the success of the film, the athletes captured the sympathy of viewers.

This year, for the first time in 24 years, Jamaica is appearing in three bobsleigh categories: the four-man, the two-man, and the women’s monobob.

Jamaica’s Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian competed as one of 20 athletes on February 13 and 14 for the fastest spot in the women’s monobob, a category which is debuting in Beijing.

On her second Olympic appearance, Fenlator-Victorian finished 19th, 9.29 seconds behind gold medalist US’ Kaillie Humphries. Fenlator-Victorian was also in the Jamaican team that debuted in the sport for women, in Pyeongchang in 2018.

In the men’s category Shanwayne Stephens is piloting the four-man sleigh with Rolando Reid, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe as pushes.

Jamaica’s team at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

But First, What is Bobsleigh?

Bobsleigh is one of the three slide sports at the Olympics, together with skeleton and luge. It’s been part of the program at every Winter Games except one (Squaw Valley, 1960).

Germany is particularly strong in the sport, having snatched a gold medal in every single bobsleigh event in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, but Switzerland holds the top spot for total number of medals in the sport.

An Unlikely Historical Legacy

Jamaica’s bobsleigh team is by no means the most successful Olympic team in the sport as it has to compete with strong teams such as Germany and the United States.

Yet, Jamaica has had a steady inflow of bobsleigh athletes since 1988, when the Jamaican team first debuted in the sport. There was at least one Jamaican men’s sleigh at five consecutive Games from 1988 to 2002.

The country’s highest achievement was 14th, at Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.

Cool Runnings (1993)

The Film Cool Runnings

To this day, Cool Runnings is still the top grossing sports comedy of all time, according to Olympics.com.

Yet interestingly, the film is only very loosely based on the happenings of the 1988 Olympics.

The Jamaican team’s participation and the fact that its bobsleigh crashed in the competition are factual, but little else. For example, the names of the characters aren’t real, nor is the storyline of the coach or the qualification process.

Yet creators stood by the essence of the story, as director Jon Turteltaub told Olympics.com: “The feeling is the same. The tone is the same. The ambition is the same. The absurdity was the same. And the main key events were the same.”

Its positive message accounts for why the film has resonated with generations and has become an iconic movie.

Looking at Melting the Ice in Beijing

The four Jamaican men competing on Sunday, February 20 are looking to be more than a Cool Runnings reboot, however.

Like many athletes around the world, the team had to come up with creative ways to train during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure they could qualify for the Olympics.

“Myself and Nimroy (Turgott, his brakeman), we were locked down in my house together, so we decided to go out and push my fiance’s mini up and down the street,” said Shanwayne Stephens to Olympics.com.

Now looking at the competition, Stephens said that they want to move ahead of current.

“We don’t mind the movie,” Stephens said, “but we just want to show that we’re more than a movie, we’re actually fierce competitors and we’re out there to do really well and to put on a really good performance at the Games.”

Watch the four-man competition on February 19 and 20.

Author: Arielle Busetto

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