Olympic Stories

The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team A Tropical Triumph

The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team  A Tropical Triumph

When the average person reads stories about the Olympic Games, it's usually about an individual athlete or particular team, and the story usually always ends in some type of medal won at the end of the day. However, there are occasional outliers here, such as with the 1988 Jamaican Bobsleigh Team of the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada.

There were no medals to be won. And rather than focusing on an individual or a team, the Jamaican Bobsleigh story is more about the pride of an entire nation – a small, niche island whose athletes almost always appear in the Summer Games, for good reason.

The Real-Life Version of Cool Runnings

In 1993, Cool Runnings was released to wide praise – a movie about the 1988 Jamaican Bobsleigh Team that overcame a lot of daunting odds to compete in the Winter Olympic Games that year. While the movie was only loosely based on the actual events, the crash footage from the Olympics was still used, and the situations the Jamaicans faced remained relatively unchanged throughout the movie.

Although it was a Hollywood picture, it still introduced the world to a story that they hadn't learned about previously. Because the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team never finished in the Olympics, they didn't make that many headlines.

The real team consisted of four members: Devon Harris, Michael White, Nelson Stokes, and Dudley Stokes. When the four men decided to create a bobsleigh team in their tropical homeland, even fellow Jamaicans thought it was a joke. Jamaica is obviously a tropical location that doesn't get any snow, and not to even mention that there aren't many opportunities to practice sledding in any capacity. The four men began practicing with carts on the roadways and honing their skills by steering sleds down grassy and dirt-covered hillsides.

This very unconventional style did help the Jamaicans in one area, however. While they weren't the best at manipulating their sled through the fast-paced, hairpin turns of an Olympic track, they were perhaps the fastest ever out of the starting gate, able to run alongside and behind their sled and mount up very quickly and efficiently.

Most of the world felt that the bobsledders from the island paradise were just a novelty soon to wear off. They didn't even have the proper gear to compete on an Olympic stage. But in a show of sportsmanship, other teams and other nations started to supply the Jamaicans with different gear for their sled. During the 1988 Games, the Jamaicans were somewhat of a ragtag team, featuring equipment that wasn't up to par, and seeking guidance from other competitors. However, despite the odds the team faced, they continued to improve at a very quick pace.

They were legitimate competitors going into the Games, and if they could do well on four consecutive runs, they might even be able to contend for a medal. This was the conventional wisdom surrounding the team at the time, as the other teams competing could not deny the massive improvements not only in the Jamaican team's performance but also their mindset.

Jamaica actually did a bit better than expected in the two-man race, at least for a brand new team from a tropical nation. They finished in 30th place, with Dudley Stokes and Michael White racing. This was better than other nations like Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Bulgaria, and New Zealand. In the four-man race, however, Jamaica was the only team not to finish. They were posting great times down the track, but they crashed on their last run, having to carry the sled across the finish line.

The Swiss won the gold in the four-man race that year, with East Germany and the Soviet Union finishing in 2nd and 3rd respectively. And while Jamaica failed to even finish, their smiling triumph of carrying their sled across the finish line is one of the lasting images in Olympic history.

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