Jamaican bobsleigh team relives Cool Runnings

Jamaican bobsleigh team driver Winston Watts. Picture: AP
Jamaican bobsleigh team driver Winston Watts. Picture: AP
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WHEN the Jamaican bobsleigh team arrived in Sochi for the Winter Olympics yesterday they were looking forward to ending the Caribbean nation’s 12-year absence from the Games.

But all did not go to plan. In a twist recalling the film Cool Runnings, driver Winston Watts and brakeman Marvin Dixon may have to borrow equipment from rivals in order to compete because their luggage remains on the other side of the Atlantic.

The men had worked hard to make it to the Games, having relied on crowd-funding to pay the £49,000 cost of them getting to and appearing at the event.

But when the team touched down in Russia, the athletes discovered their equipment was still somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic.

Watts and Dixon were forced to sit out the first practice runs because their luggage, with the runners for their two-man bobsleigh, as well as all their sliding gear, failed to make the flight.

“The sleigh is here,” Watts said. “But the blades . . . the airline maybe left them back in New York. None of us have clothing.”

Having flown down from their training base in Lake Placid in the United States on Monday, ahead of flying from New York’s JFK airport to Russia, Watts said he and his teammate had missed their connecting flight to Moscow after being delayed by bad weather there.

“We were circling for an hour or hour-and-a-half and were then re-routed to Philadelphia to refuel before going back to New York again,” he said. “Our original flight had already left so we had to take another.”

So while other competitors got in training runs on the Sanki Sliding Centre track, Watts was on the phone trying to find out what to do next. He said the Jamaican team chief was working to get the missing items to the Black Sea resort ahead of the Games, which start tomorrow.

The 46-year-old is an old hand when it comes to the Winter Olympics, having been a member of Jamaica’s first bobsleigh team which competed in the 1980s, 1990s and 2002, and was the inspiration for hit Hollywood movie Cool Runnings, which starred John Candy. But the country failed to qualify for the two most recent Games.

Mr Watts said that if the missing equipment does not arrive today they will be forced to borrow items from other teams so they can start to practice.

He said: “This is a very new track for everyone and I’m not really happy about missing today.

“We will have maybe three more sessions – six runs in total and I’m confident we will take part in those because we have a lot of friends here. I’m sure people will lend us what we need.”

Losing their luggage is not the first hurdle Jamaica has faced in returning to the Olympics for the first time in more than a decade. Qualifying for Sochi just two weeks ago, the team lacked the money to fund the trip and sent out a global appeal for donations to raise the £49,000 they needed to get to the Games.

Their plight struck a chord with the public, and money poured in from around the world to crowd-funding websites, raising £74,000 in two days.

Watts said he had no choice but to ask for financial support: “I didn’t have any more money to spend so I decided I would turn to my fans and friends and that’s why we put out that bulletin.”

Despite having no clothes but the yellow and green tracksuit he arrived in, Watts kept smiling, refusing to let the inconvenience ruin his mood.

“There’s no such word to explain how I feel being here,” he said. “The atmosphere, the fans, the friends. It’s pretty exciting. We are the most loving people, so every moment is always positive. We always keep smiling. That is our motto.”