The achievements of the Jamaican bobsleigh team in Calgary cannot be measured in times or medals. The quartet from the Caribbean island came nowhere near to the podium and yet their endeavours earned international admiration and global fame, even inspiring a movie
Their story was a remarkable one, which started when two local businessmen saw a so-called “pushcart” race in Jamaica and decided that the skills could be successfully transferred to bobsleigh. Adverts calling for recruits to take part in the experiment produced a healthy response, with three members of the newly formed bobsleigh team coming from the military.
They arrived in Canada with very little experience and promptly lost one of their team-members to injury during training. Chris Stokes, the brother of pilot Dudley had to be drafted in at the last minute, even though he had never been in a bob before.
Naturally enough, the Jamaicans generated plenty of goodwill and excitement, but how would they fare in their country’s first ever venture into winter sports? In the first run of the two-man, Dudley Stokes and Michael White finished 34th quickest out of 41 teams – a respectable debut to say the least; then the second descent saw the Jamaicans finish 22nd quickest, ahead of teams from such established winter nations as Japan, Italy and Bulgaria. On the third and fourth runs they clocked the 31st and 30th fastest times to finish 30th overall.
Far from being a laughing-stock, the Jamaican duo had beaten 11 other bobs, including the USA’s first crew, who failed to complete all four runs.
Attention now turned to the bigger, faster and technically more complex four-man event, in which the Jamaican’s patent lack of experience seemed an even bigger obstacle. Their first run started badly, with a component breaking off the bob as Dudley Stokes jumped in at the start. As a result, the team finished 24th out of the 26 starters. On the second run, Michael White struggled to get into position and the Jamaicans could manage only 25th.
Things went from bad to worse on the third run. Despite an impressively fast start, the injured Stokes lost control at the fearsome Kreisel Bend and the Jamaican bob overturned. It careered down the track for a while before coming to a halt, allowing the athletes to clamber out and walk slowly to the end of the track. It was the end of the adventure but not the end of the legend. The tale of how the Jamaicans put together a bobsleigh team for Calgary inspired the hit film Cool Runnings, while perhaps more significantly in terms of sporting legacy, the country has sent bobsleigh teams to five subsequent editions of the Winter Games.