Jamaica’s Bobsled Team Hopes to Make History in Real-Life ‘Cool Runnings’

jamaican bobsled team 2022

“Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s bobsled time!”

It’s yet unclear whether the immortal words of the 1993 Disney classic Cool Runnings will kick off the launch of the Jamaican bobsled team at this year’s Winter Olympics. What we can say for sure however is that, for the first time in 24 years, the Caribbean island nation will compete in the bobsleigh event.

The 2022 team, made up of Jamaican nationals living in the UK, are hoping to relive the glory of the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada when the country first qualified for the Winter Olympics.

Those events became the basis for the film Cool Runnings, starring Leon Robinson and John Candy, in which a team of Jamaicans with Olympic ambitions realise there is no minimum entry requirement for The Games and set about trying to enter. The film ends with them qualifying for the finals but crashing dramatically in the last race, carrying their bobsleigh over the finish line to triumphant applause.

While it’s not a 100% accurate reflection of the real events, it is a cult family classic and at least part of the inspiration behind the current real-life team’s efforts. This time, however, their aiming much higher than their predecessors.

jamaican bobsled team 2022
Image: Ashley Watson, Matthew Wekpe, Nimroy Turgott and Shanwayne Stephens make up the 2022 Jamaican Bobsleigh team at the Winter Olympics / The University of Bath

Bobsleigh Pilot Shanwayne Stephens has said, “It’s absolutely fantastic to finally be going to Beijing.”

“It’s been four years of hard graft and it’s fantastic to not only be representing ourselves at the Olympics but Jamaica and everyone who loves Cool Runnings as well. We’re going to go and put in the best performance we can.”

The team, made up of Stephens, brakemen Nimroy Turgott, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe have been honing their all-important start on the UK’s only outdoor bobsleigh push-start track at the University of Bath.

“I wouldn’t want to go to an Olympic Games unless we’re going for gold — we want medals,” Watson said. “The best Jamaica has previously done at the Olympics is 14th, so we’re aiming to improve on that and inspire the next generation of Jamaican athletes.”

Speaking about the global appeal that the Jamaican bobsleigh crew has, Wepke added, “Everyone loves Cool Runnings and it’s great to have that support and love. We are a small nation and we want to show athletes that no matter where you come from, you can achieve. We’re going to the Games!”

Turgott added: “We’re not just there to participate, we are there to compete and show the rest of the world what Jamaica can achieve in winter sports.”

It won’t be the Rasta Rocket that they’ll be taking to The Games, but the team has much of the world’s attention on them and the ambitions of Jamaican winter sports.

How Does a Bobsled Work?

If you’ve been watching any of the bobsleigh events, which have been running over the past few days and will continue until 20 February, you’ve probably got a few questions about just how the mechanics of these things operate. Questions including, but not limited to, ‘what does a bobsled look like on the inside’, ‘how do you even steer a bobsled’, and, ‘are these people totally insane’ are common thoughts when watching these events.

First of all, there’s a bit of a linguistic discrepancy to clear up. ‘Bobsled’ and ‘bobsleigh’ are both terms for the same apparatus used to carry teams of two or four people down a slope. ‘Bobsled’ is the more common term in North America while ‘bobsleigh’ is more common in British English. The Olympics defers to the Brits here, which is why you see all the events using that name, but they’re the same exact thing.

The term comes from the fact that crews ‘bob’ back and forth to pick up speed and it was invented by the Swiss in the late 19th century, though moving across snow on a cart of any kind has been around for millennia.

The bobsleds you get today are highly compact, typically just under 4 metres in length for the four-person versions. You’ve got room for a pilot at the front, whose legs extend out under the hood, two pushmen behind, and a brakeman at the back. The last three are basically squashed in with their knees under their armpits.

The pilot is the only one in charge of where the thing goes. They steer by using two rings attached to ropes that pull the axle at the front left or right, trying to hit the sweet spot between under and over steering as they go around the course’s 17 curves. Steer too high and you add more distance to your run, too low and you lose out on the centrifugal force that pushes the sled down the track.

These things go fast as well, reaching top speeds of about 160kms which is absolutely wild when you think about it. The track however is only 1.4kms long, meaning that it’s possible to do the run in under 30 seconds.

The four-man bobsleigh event will be on Saturday, February 19, and you can check out how to watch it along with all the other events here.

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