Athletics

Ice breakers!

Pioneer Stokes, Minister Grange fired up at prospects of current torch-bearers to Winter Games

BY DWAYNE RICHARDS
Observer writer

Thursday, February 08, 2018

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THE groundbreaking female trio of Jasmine Fenlator-Victorian, Carrie Russell, and Audra Segree will make their historic debut at the Winter Olympic Games in a few days in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 30 years after Jamaica first participated in a Winter Olympic Games in Calgary.

Anthony Watson also makes history with his qualification for the Skeleton slider.

The Games get underway tomorrow, and President of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation Chris Stokes has come out in fierce defence of Jamaica's participation at the winter sporting event.

Speaking at a press conference held at the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) on Monday, Stokes — a member of the historic qualifying team in 1988 — was unapologetic in his stance.

“We as Jamaicans stake claim to any corner of the world and any sport in the world. If you can have somebody from India and Norway running a 100m — big grown men, running 11.20s and our guys have to stop and watch them until the next round. We stake our claim to participate in Bobsleigh, but we are not running 11.20, we are running 9.7s,” he insisted.

“One thing I have learned seeing Jamaicans in Jamaica and overseas, never you tell a Jamaican that either they don't belong or that they can't do something. I don't know where it comes from, I don't know where it started, nobody has taught us this, but I know that there is nothing going on in the world that a Jamaican is not the head of. Go and look,” he challenged.

He cited chess as another example of Jamaica's prowess in international sporting endeavours.

“The first black chess Grandmaster in the world comes from St Elizabeth,” he exclaimed.

In his final salvo to the naysayers, Stokes, who will be representing the president of the JOA, Chris Samuda, at the games, said: “Bobsleigh, we never invented it, we are being Jamaicans, which is to me, a culturally imperialist country and people without apology.”

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport,Olivia Grange, who was there for Jamaica's first foray on the ice in 1998, spoke of those special memories.

“I remember very well the genesis of bobsled in Jamaica and our country's first outing on the international stage at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. During those games the first team of Dudley 'Tal' Stokes, Devon Harris, Michael White, Freddie Powell and Chris Stokes crashed and did not finish.

“At that time bobsled had very few supporters, but I was privileged to be among those few, right beside the former Prime Minister, The most Honourable Edward Seaga, who saw the potential of the sport and the value that it brought to our developing country and shared the vision of the team.

“Six years later the Jamaica bobsled team was one of the best in the world, placing fourteenth in the world ahead of the United States of America at the 1994 Olympics,” recalled Grange.

The performance of Jamaica at the Winter Olympics over the years has inspired other countries with tropical climates to venture into that area of sport, something also mentioned by the minister, who hailed the historic achievement of the women in qualifying.

“While we have been able to influence the world, one of our greatest achievements is to be able to have a women's team qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. This is a fantastic achievement,” Grange declared.

“This qualification is even more special to us as Jamaicans because it coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first men's team participation at the Calgary Games. The women had to do it,” she joked.

Grange believes that something special awaits Jamaica in South Korea.

“I am optimistic that the ladies will wow the world. I left a conversation with them with a strong sense of pride and a feeling that our girls will make a podium finish. I feel it... and even if they don't, I am confident that they will give nothing but their best as they compete and they will be the hottest thing on ice,” she noted.

Grange also hailed the qualification of our Skeleton slider.

“Anthony Watson has qualified as a pioneer in the Skeleton, I want to congratulate him and wish him well as he slides into history.”

Samuda gave the fulsome support of the JOA for the journey the team is about to embark on in South Korea.

“It all started with our men, with a sense of hope, with a sense of pride, perhaps a sense of not knowing what to expect, and they demonstrated the national mettle in a way that inspired a nation. And then there was a sense of expectancy and anticipation and the years that passed could not drown that sense of expectation and anticipation,” he said.

Samuda believes that the legacy that the women will create will be even more important than their actual achievements in Pyeongchang.

“Time evolutes and then the women came into their own. They came with a sense of history, they came with a sense of national pride and now they would have occupied a coveted place on the international stage and time will evolute from today. What is important is not that we have made history, what is important is the legacy that our athletes will create,” he stated.

The Jamaican male bobsleigh team just failed to make the qualifying standard for the games with a ranking of 61 in the world, one spot outside the requirements.

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