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Jamaican bobsledders have held a special, almost sentimental place in Olympic history since their novel entry at the 1988 Games in Calgary, Canada.
Now one Jamaican bobsledder is in Lillehammer, the first athlete from his country to compete at a Winter Youth Olympic Games.
He will try to write another chapter of the story, one that will go beyond the sentiment of the sunshine boy on ice, but rather provide a performance worthy of being among the very best. To this point, his story is an inspirational one that says you can do it if you only try.
It is spring of 2015, and small-bodied Daniel Mayhew is going through sprint workouts at the national stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. He does not seem to be sprinting as fast as other schoolboys who have graced that track, trying to become the next Usain Bolt. But that is fine, because he is not a track and field athlete and he is not looking to emulate Bolt. He is trying to achieve something unique for his country.
Back then, he was an unknown young athlete. At 16 years old he had not participated in any of the traditional Jamaican sports like football, cricket or athletics. But on that rainy afternoon, as he scampered from the track to the stands, he got his first opportunity to tell his story nationally.
At the time it seemed a long shot: a boy with his sights set on becoming a commercial pilot and who had no real sporting background trying to qualify for the monobob, itself a new event at the Winter Youth Olympic Games.
He had only started the sport a few months earlier, in February 2015, and had just one competition in Switzerland that marked his first appearance on ice. But in his wide bright eyes you could see hope and belief. There was confidence in him.
“The experience in Switzerland was new for me,” he said, before adding, not entirely unexpectedly for someone accustomed to regular temperatures of 30 degrees Celcius and above, “It was really cold.” But the icy conditions had not frozen his dream. If anything his desire had grown because of the experience.
Mayhew started the journey with two young female athletes, but a lack of funding meant the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation could only support one sledder, and he was thought to have the best shot at qualifying. He proved his handlers right. Months later, after two more trips to Europe, he secured his place for the Lillehammer 2016 YOG.
Jamaica's Daniel Mayhew has been working hard in the gym to improve his bobsleigh performances. Photo: Laura Godenzi, IOC Young Reporters
This time when he told his story, he wasn’t small-bodied any more. Now 17, he has added about 20 pounds (9kg) of muscle, according to his coach, Harry Nelson “the result of many hours in the gym trying to get stronger”. “I feel really extraordinary,” Mayhew said. “I really feel proud and I just hope to do my best and come out on top.”
Nelson, coaching the sport for the first time, spotted Daniel while he was running during one of his physical education classes. “He is a bright kid, so it was basically getting him not to think about it but just to do it,” the coach said.
When Mayhew travelled to Austria for his second competition in December, it was also his second time on ice. “I had to depend on memory to get me through the runs,” he explained.
Run after run he continued to improve and had his fastest times at his final qualifying meet in Lillehammer, at the same venue where on Saturday (20 February) he will attempt to win Jamaica’s first Olympic Winter Games medal at any level.
He will compete against 14 of the world’s best youth, but there is real optimism that his feel-good factor will not only be in qualifying but that he will produce performances that will enable him to become more famous than Cool Runnings, a movie about the Jamaican four-man bobsleigh team that reached the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
According to the president of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation, Chris Stokes, Mayhew has a great shot. “The coaches are very impressed with his driving and he just seems to be a natural, with great hand-eye coordination.” “No matter what happens in Lillehammer, Daniel is one for the future and has what it takes to be a superstar of the sport.”
Whatever happens, Lillehammer will be a point of reference for the Daniel Mayhew chapter of Jamaica’s bobsledding story. How significant the reference will be remains to be seen.
By Ricardo Chambers, IOC Young Reporters