‘Fire on ice’: Jamaica to send 3 bobsled teams to Beijing Games

The Caribbean nation will send a four-man sled team to games for first time since first qualifying for event in 1988.

Lascelles Oneil Brown (L) and Winston Alexander Watt of the Jamaica-1 team leap into their sled at the start of heat three of the two-man bobsleigh competition at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games, February 17, 2002 in Park City
Jamaica first qualified for a bobsled event in the 1988 Calgary Olympics [File: Peter Andrews/Reuters]

Jamaica has qualified for a historic three bobsled events in the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, including the four-man bobsled.

Jamaica, a Caribbean island of just under three million people with a tropical climate, captured imaginations when its four-man bobsled team qualified for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the first time in the nation’s history.

The feat inspired the 1993 underdog sports film “Cool Runnings”.

Monday’s qualifying represents the first time that Jamaica has qualified for the four-man event since then although it sent two-man teams to five subsequent Olympics.

“It will be fire on ice,” Team Jamaica said Monday on their official Twitter account. “This will be the 1st time JAM has qualified in 3 Olympic bobsled events: four-man, two-man and women’s monobob”.

The team has not yet announced the roster for the four-man event, but the sled is expected to be piloted by Shanwayne Stephens, a lance corporal in the Royal Air Force.

Stephens caught the attention of the public during the 2020 coronavirus lockdowns in the United Kingdom when he and his teammates were regularly spotted pushing a Mini Cooper down the streets of the English city of Peterborough.

He told Reuters news agency that with gyms closed, the unorthodox training regiment helped the group stay in shape.

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car,” he said.

“When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

Despite the publicity, the Jamaican team continues to faces challenges in competing in the Winter Games.

It has been trying to crowdfund $194,000 for new equipment since late November, with an appeal called “Cool Sleds for the Hottest Thing On Ice”.

“[The athletes] are as committed, hardworking, resilient, and talented as any, but without elite sleds they can never reach their potential,” the site reads. “We don’t want to be drag racing in a Prius.”

So far less than $4,000 has been raised.

Jamaica's pilot Winston Watts (front) speeds down the track during a two-man bobsleigh training session at the Sanki Sliding Center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics near Sochi
Jamaica’s pilot Winston Watts speeds down the track during a two-man bobsleigh training session at the Sanki Sliding Center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics near Sochi. [File: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]

Jamaica could still possibly compete in a fourth bobsled event in Beijing, with the two-woman team narrowly missing a spot after losing a tie-breaker. They could still make it as first alternate if a qualified nation gives up a spot.

Jamaica, which regularly dominates in sprinting events in the Summer Olympics, could also have a chance at winter glory outside of the bobsled.

The island nation will also have its first ever Alpine skier competing in the games, with 38-year-old Benjamin Alexander, who grew up in Northamptonshire, England and whose father is Jamaican, qualifying for the giant slalom.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies