Jamaica’s third biggest “brand” next to reggae and Bob Marley is bobsledding. A tropical island in the Caribbean and bobsledding?
The tale of the bobsled team from Jamaica who triumphed against the odds to compete at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics is embedded in pop culture more than a quarter of a century on. The story has been passed on to new generations thanks in no small part to the phenomenal success of the 1993 film ‘Cool Runnings’. The tale – Hollywood or otherwise – has received another lease of life after the Jamaicans qualified for Sochi, reaching the Winter Olympics for the first time since Salt Lake City 12 years ago. In February 2016, the Jamaican bobsled team is looking to capture some of the “Cool Runnings” magic that enshrined the Caribbean nation’s legacy in the sport, this time at competing in the Bobsled & Skeleton World Championships in Tirol.
The coach of the Jamaican bobsled team is a famous face. Devon Harris is one of the members of the original 1988 team who competed in the first Jamaican four-man bobsleigh in history at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Together with the current two-man bobsleigh team, Joel Alexander and Tyrone Mullings, he visited the Olympic Bobsleigh Run in Innsbruck/Igls in December 2015.
After their first training session at the Olympic Bobsleigh Run in Igls, the Jamaican Bobsled Team went to the Tirol Shop for a team fitting session and gave us an interview.
How do you like your outfit from the Tirol Shop?
Harris: It’s amazing, almost better than our team uniforms (laughing).
You arrived in Innsbruck yesterday. How was your first training session here today?
Alexander: It was pretty great and fun although we crashed twice. I mean, there’s nothing to complain about it. It’s like the fastest track we have ever had.
So you want to compete at the 2016 Bobsled & Skeleton World Championships in Tirol?
Harris: Yes, we are very excited and we would love to go all out for glory at the Worlds. We do our best to strengthen the sport of bobsledding in Jamaica.
Cool Runnings is an American cult classic based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team—but how much of it is true? How much of the movie diverges from the real story that took place in Calgary in 1988? Even today, more than a quarter of a century on, www.coolrunnings.org is the official site of the Jamaican bobsled team. Today’s “Cool Runnings” team and his coach, founding member of the original team, answer questions on what really happened and how the film helped the Jamaican Bobsled Team become a global phenomenon.
Two words are the first things that come to people’s mind when they think of the Jamaican Bobsled Team: Cool Runnings.
Harris: Oh really. What makes you think that? (laughing)
What do you think of the movie now, in the year 2015?
Alexander: Oh, it’s legendary. It is the first thing anybody would ask us. You know, it goes like: So you guys got an egg? That movie really put us on the map in many ways. It really served Jamaica bobsled very well.
How much does this movie have to do with your career?
Alexander: Well, the only difference from the movie I notice is that we expect to win and there is no telling there from that.
What is your favourite quote from this movie?
Harris: Well there are so many. I guess, you know, as a motivational speaker it would be “Go chase your palace“. And this is really the essence of Jamaican bobsled we send to people from all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you are from and what the challenges are or what the obstacles are. Wherever your palace is, you should go and chase it.
“Feel the Rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time!” Do you guys actually say that in real life?
Harris: We didn’t do the ‘Feel the Rhythm, Feel the Rhyme’ thing. That’s fiction. We did adapt some of the timing things and made it our own. In reality, we have a similar approach to preparing ourselves at the start as the Austrian team and all other teams.
Bobsledding is a very expensive sport, a new racing bobsleigh costs about 100,000 Dollars, that’s more than 90,000 Euros.
Harris: Yes, there were times when we didn’t have our own bobsleigh. This season we haven’t got our own either – up to now. We have to rent a bobsleigh.
What is your aim for the 2016 Bobsled & Skeleton World Championships in Tirol?
Alexander: We want to win.
How are your chances of winning?
Alexander: It’s my first time on this track, so we will see what happens during training. But whatever happens, we compete to win.
Mullings: If we really work hard, we can make it.
Up to now, no Jamaican bobsleigh team stood on the podium at World Championships or Olympic Winter Games. Lascelles Brown, however, is the first Jamaican to win a medal at an Olympic Winter Games, but he has had his greatest success while wearing the maple leaf for Canada. Considered one of the most powerful brakemen in all of bobsleigh, Lascelles Brown has competed internationally for three different countries. His bobsleigh career began in his native Jamaica, for whom he competed at the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games. That same year he moved to Canada and began representing his new home in 2004. Brown’s impact was immediate, as he earned two-man gold and four-man bronze with pilot Pierre Lueders at the 2005 World Championships. In January 2006, Brown was granted Canadian citizenship and less than a month later he stood on the podium at the Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games, having won silver in the two-man event with Lueders. Continuing with the Canadian team, Brown would compete at his third Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010 and won his second Olympic medal, capturing bronze in the four-man event. After two seasons competing for Monaco, Brown returned to the Canadian team in preparation for Sochi 2014, where he finished ninth in both the two-man and four-man events.
Even if Joel Alexander and Tyrone Mullings don’t win a medal at the 2016 Bobsleigh & Skeleton World Championships in Tirol, they will carry on. They are determined to compete and they dream big to take their game to the next level. By the way, with their Innsbruck visit, things have come full circle for the Jamaican Bobsled Team: The first coach of the original Olympic bobsled team of Jamaica who competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary was Tirolean.
For more details on the 2016 Bobsleigh & Skeleton World Championships in Tirol please refer to www.tyrol.com/events
Photo Credits: Österreichischer Bob- und Skeletonverband