When Jamaica’s two-man bobsleigh team secured a surprise qualification for Sochi 2014, it evoked memories of the famed exploits of the country’s four-man team at Calgary 1988. Now three-time Olympian Winston Watts, now 47, is confident he and Marvin Dixon will be serious contenders for honours.
A mention of the film Cool Runnings is guaranteed to bring a smile to the lips of any fan of the Olympic Games. Released in 1993, the Disney comedy, which told the remarkable story of Jamaica’s four-man bobsleigh team’s exploits at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, was a global hit.
The movie might have been guilty of some artistic license, but the real-life events contained plenty of dramatic moments, not least the infamous crash suffered by the Jamaican quartet of Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris, Michael White and Nelson Stokes, and their walk alongside their bob as it was pushed across the finish line.
Though best remembered for their debut in Calgary, the Jamaicans’ finest performance on the Olympic stage actually came six years later at Lillehammer 1994, where they secured a laudable 14th place, ahead of formidable opponents such as the USA, Russia, France and Sweden.
At Salt Lake City 2002, it was the turn of the two-man team of Winston Watts and Lascelles Brown to impress, with the pair setting a new Olympic push-start record of 4.78 seconds on the Park City track.
Brown went on to became a Canadian citizen in 2006, competing under his new flag at the Turin Games, where he won a silver medal in tandem with Pierre Lueders. The brakeman subsequently earned a bronze with Lyndon Rush’s four-man bob at Vancouver 2010.
Watts, meanwhile, had retired from the sport, having failed to qualify Jamaica for either Turin or Vancouver. However, in 2010, the veteran of three previous editions of the Winter Games (1994, 1998 and 2002) decided to return to the ice at the age of 43.
“When you give up something that you love, you just can’t let go,” explained the Jamaican driver. “I’m back and I’m hungry for success. I’m very excited! I know that with my comeback, a good brakeman and the right financial backing, we can create another bit of history.”
Basing himself in Utah for the 2013-2014 season, Watts teamed up with compatriot Marvin Dixon to compete in the two-man bob in the North American Cup. Fifth and seventh-place finishes in their last two races were enough to propel the duo into the 30-strong list of teams qualifying for Sochi.
Novelty act no more
On 20 January 2014, the Jamaican pair’s unexpected qualification made headlines around the world. A fundraising campaign was launched, sparking an incredible influx of donations from all over the planet, and it was closed again just two days later.
The Jamaican Olympic Committee also confirmed that it would provide the duo with financial support. “It’s going to help us do our very best and get hold of equipment that’s essential if we want to compete with the rest of the world,” says Watts.
For the veteran athlete, now 47, the overwhelmingly positive global reaction to their qualification is a sign of his nation’s sporting stature. “They believe in us because they know that Jamaica has some of the greatest athletes in the world,” he says. “They want to see us excel at this sport as well. We’re not just a bunch of jokers who are there because the film came out. We’re true athletes and serious contenders.
“Taking part in the Olympic Games and parading at the Opening Ceremony is a great honour for me, and a source of pride for our entire country,” he adds.
Chris Stokes, who was part of the legendary 1988 quartet and is now President of the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation, has vowed to continue developing the sport, establishing a junior and women’s team and targeting success at Pyeongchang 2018.
Producing the likes of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Caribbean nation has shone on the Olympic athletics track for many years. Now it hopes its athletes can harness their potential in the bobsleigh and make their mark on the Winter Games too.