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Four-man Jamaican bobsled makes Olympic return

February 17, 2022

Jamaica has a four-man bobsled team in the Olympics for the first time since 1998. Too young to witness the famous 1988 team but big fans of "Cool Runnings," this year's team wants to add to Jamaica's bobsled legacy.

Shanwayne Stephens piloting two-man bobsled
Shanwayne Stephens is the first Jamaican to qualify for the Olympics in two-man and four-men bobsled since Dudley StokesImage: Pavel Golovkin/AP/picture alliance

Rolando Reid, Shanwayne Stephens, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe weren't alive to witness Jamaica's bobsledding debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

But they all grew up watching "Cool Runnings," the 1993 comedy starring Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba and John Candy, and all of them were at least partly inspired by the film to take up bobsledding themselves.

"It was definitely something I would just look at and say 'oh, this is funny.' It's a hilarious movie," Reid told DW. "After understanding what it is and what the guys went through, I wanted to be a part of that and to carry on that legacy."

While all four love the film, they know that know that even if they didn't, they would still be associated with it anyway. But they don't see it as a bad thing.

"The movie is a part of Jamaican bobsled, part of Jamaica. We're never going to get away from it," Stephens, who pilots the two- and four-man bobs, told DW. "It's a movie everybody loves, and I think it's one of those movies that never gets old."

Scene from film Cool Runnings
Today's Jamaica Bobled team was inspired by the 1993 film 'Cool Runnings'Image: United Archives/Impress/picture alliance

They also recognize the lasting messages of "Cool Runnings" – the value of hard work, chasing dreams and being true to oneself: "The best I can be is Jamaican," says Sanka Coffie, who is played by Doug E. Doug, at one point in the film.

Given the trials the current team had to face getting to Beijing, inspiration was something they sorely needed.

Difficult path to qualification

Reid, Stephens, Watson and Wekpe entered bobsledding in different ways.

Reid, Watson and Wekpe all have track-and-field backgrounds, though Watson is also a power lifter and Wekpe also plays rugby sevens. Stephens is a gunner pilot in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Reid, like Stephens' brakeman in the two-man bobsled, Nimroy Turgott, lives in Jamaica, while Stephens, Watson and Wekpe live in the UK. But they have one thing in common; there is no snow where they live.

"Even though we're in a colder country, we are still in the same situation, so we have to be creative with our training," Stephens said. "We do as much of that stuff outside of sliding as we can."

The UK's coronavirus-induced lockdown didn't help, either. A video featuring Stephens and two-man partner Turgott pushing Stephens' mini went viral last year and drew a chuckle from Queen Elizabeth II.

"Well, I suppose that's one way to train," Her Majesty told Stephens during an RAF video call.

Jamaica Bobsleigh team athlete Shanwayne Stephens steers his mini as teammate Nimroy Turgott pushes the car
Jamaica Bobsleigh pilot Shanwayne Stephens had the easy part as Nimroy Turgott pushed him in his miniImage: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Due to the pandemic, Jamaica's four-man team came together for the first time on September 18, 2021, in Lake Placid, New York. They prepared for qualification on an old four-man sled which broke halfway through a competition, but Canada was "kind enough" to lend them one, Stephens said.

"The challenges we've been through this season have been unbelievable," the bobsled pilot added. "We can't even express how hard it's been for us to qualify."

But qualify they did, taking the final spot in the 24-sled field based on their performances in the North American Cup in Lake Placid, which they said had become their home track.

Building on Jamaica's legacy

Reid was proud to point out that Stephens was just the second Jamaican pilot after Dudley Stokes to qualify two sleds for the Olympics – the two-man with brakeman Turgott and the four-man with Reid, Watson and Wekpe.

"That in itself is something for the history books," Reid said. "In the modern era, he's the man."

To Wekpe, the two sleds, plus Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian qualifying in the women's monobob, show how far Jamaica has come as a bobsled nation.

"It just shows that we might be a small nation, but if we put our minds to it, and we work hard, we can qualify for the Games," Wekpe said.

For the Jamaicans, that embodies the main takeaway from "Cool Runnings." 

This year's four-man sled has a different name: "Rude Gal Angelica," which honors Fenlator-Victorian's sister who died shortly before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics – "Rude Gal Angelica" was her Instagram name.

The best finish for Jamaica in the four-man bobsled is 14th, which Dudley Stokes, Winston Watts, Chris Stokes and Wayne Thomas achieved at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. But this year's team isn't too concerned about trying to improve on that standard; for them, it's all about being part of the Jamaican bobsled legacy.

"The sport has moved on so far. The equipment has moved on so far. There are a lot more countries in the sport now," Stephens said.

"We're here to do the best that we can and put our best in every single run that we do, and then the result will be what it will be. As long as we are setting a precedent for the next generation to want to come into the sport, I think we've done ourselves proud."

Given how far they've come, and how hard it was to get to Beijing, rest assured that Reid, Stephens, Watson and Wekpe will "feel the rhythm," "feel the rhyme" and "get on up" for "bobsled time."

Edited by: Chuck Penfold.

Jamaican bobsledders go Olympic

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