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Bolt in a bobsled?

Lance Neita

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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Three cheers and more for our Jamaican female bobsled team about to roar into the Winter Olympics for the first time. We will be on show February 9-25 when the world's winter wonderland will see history repeating itself.

In 1988 Jamaica's all-male team qualified for the Games in Calgary, Canada, creating an unprecedented run downhill as the first team from a tropical country to enter the games. This year after several trials and heartbreaks, Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian and brake woman Carrie Russell have shattered the ice barriers and you can bet they will be among the most popular teams in PyeongChang, South Korea, starting this week Thursday.

So, yes, Jamaica, we have a women's Olympic bobsled team.

They have already created history, as this season Fenlator-Victorian (a 2014 US Olympian) drove the first Jamaican women's sled in World Cup competition since 2001. And, by the way, Russell won a 2013 world title in track and field as part of Jamaica's 4x100m relay.

Another nice bit of news coming our way is that the girls competed in a sled named Mr Cool Bolt after Cool Runnings and Usain Bolt, according to the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announcers.

How did Bolt get into this bobsled argument? Well, as you might expect, there is much speculation making the rounds as to what if Bolt? That includes Chris Stokes, a pioneer Jamaican bobsledder, who is quoted as saying that he believes “Bolt would be the best in the world, no question.” Bolt ruled out a bobsled debut when he told the Associated Press, in 2016, “Anybody who knows me knows I don't do well with cold.” But that has not stopped others from imagining Bolt in a bobsled.

Fenlator-Victorian points out that, “In bobsled, you don't have to run 100m. At most it's 30m. So I think with his stature and ability, he definitely has what it takes to be a bobsledder. The only thing is mentally getting over being in cold weather.”

Stokes, who is now president of the Jamaica Bobsled Federation, let out that individuals have approached Bolt directly about trying the sport, but he is not expecting to see Bolt in a bobsled.

“I've heard him say if we can figure out a way to do it without the cold, then fine,” Stokes said.

In the meantime, as far as the men are concerned, we are also keeping up our hopes for them this year as they just missed qualifying for the two-man bobsled outright, but we are the first alternate if one of the qualified nations drops out. So get ready to search your TV screens as our brave men and women get ready to burn up the ice track.

Our women will not be alone, as a Nigerian ladies team has also qualified. That team is also a first, men's or women's, for the entire continent of Africa. They are getting comparisons drawn to Cool Runnings — the 1993 film based on the true story of the Jamaica's first bobsled team who competed in the 1988 Winter Games — and the Africans say it's a legacy they embrace and hope to emulate.

We have to take off our hats to these athletes. Bobsled is, to me, one of the riskiest sports. The teams of two or four teammates make timed runs down narrow, twisting, banked, iced tracks in a gravity-powered sled. The timed runs are combined to calculate the final score. Modern tracks are made of concrete, coated with ice. They are required to have at least one straight section and one labyrinth (three turns in quick succession without a straight section). Ideally, a modern track should be 1,200 to 1,300 metres (3,900-4,300 ft) long and have at least 15 curves. Speeds may exceed 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph), and some curves can subject the crews to as much as 5g.

Individual runs down the course, or “heats”, begin from a standing start, with the crew pushing the sled for up to 50 metres (160 ft) before boarding. While poor form during the initial push can lose a team the heat, it is otherwise rarely, if ever, decisive. Over the rest of the course, a sleigh's speed depends on its weight, aerodynamics, runners, the condition of the ice, and the skill of the pilot.

The attractiveness of a tropical team in this winter icebox sport gave Jamaica much publicity when we first entered. The team was immensely popular. The bobsledders couldn't leave Olympic Village for fear of getting mobbed, according to the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation, and they got a lot of attention from the American media.

The film Cool Runnings is still widely popular, with people all over the world associating it instantly with Jamaica, as they do with icons like Bob Marley, Bolt, Herb McKenley, Merlene Ottey, and Shaggy.

The bobsled Jamaican dream started when two American businessmen living in Jamaica were inspired by a visit to the Kaiser Bauxite National Push Cart Derby in Discovery Bay. The men, George Fitch and William Maloney, thought the sport looked like bobsledding. They took their idea for a Jamaica bobsled team to the country's Olympic association, and from there to the Jamaica Defence Force. Stokes said he got into bobsledding because a colonel in the army told him to do so, and he had very little choice.

It wasn't easy for the team to compete. They were using borrowed equipment, and one of their teammates got injured during training. On the team's first run during the four-man event, part of Stokes' sled collapsed. On the second day, he fell and injured his shoulder.

They got a fast start that day, but running at 85 miles per hour the sled crashed, and the teammates were trapped underneath the sled. The accident inspired that famous inspirational (though fictionalised) moment in the film where they lift the cart to their shoulders and walk determinedly across the finish line to rapturous applause from the spectators.

Another little-known story about Cool Runnings is that it was conjectured with another name, 'Sno-Kone'. I got my little touch of movie fame when a call came to my house from Disney Productions one evening enquiring about the possibility of using the Kaiser Sports Club to film sequences for a movie to be named 'Sno-Kone'. Things started to move when local movie producer Natalie Thompson came by to brief and make arrangements for the push cart derby and track meet shoot at the club requiring some 300 extras and a number of local push cart riders. We got busy, recruited the extras from the local community, filled out the stands, and thus it was that Discovery Bay got its fair share of stardom in a runaway hit movie.

So there you have it, push cart, bobsled, Cool Runnings, and Discovery Bay, making a great impact on tourism. It's called sports marketing, as being pushed by Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett and sports marketer Carole Beckford. Congratulations to Carole on her book — Jamaica's Is In — Sport and Tourism — and her vision and pragmatism in developing sports as a business. Jamaica can get a lot of traction out of sports marketing, but it seems to me we haven't yet found the magic mix. Sports marketing goes much further that the mention or recognition of a name.

Olivia Grange, sports minister, has one of the best tools available to the sports market thrust in that stadium sitting idly in Trelawny. Think Usain Bolt Stadium, nearby hotels, prime beaches, airport, cruise shipping port, and highway. I shudder to think that when the minister leaves office she leaves the stadium in the same condition that it is in now, and in the hands of committees after committees.

Effective sports marketing should be tied into tourism. Perhaps the Ministry of Tourism — doing so well on its own — should be expanded to include sports and culture. Youth and community development could then get more attention from the current minister admirably suited for that field.

Sports and culture in Jamaica are not geared toward tourists. In other countries these are money spinners. Look how many gala events are held at the stadium, at theatres, in schools, in communities, with just a handful of tourists showing up. Trelawny, as said elsewhere, could be expanded into an international multi-sports development facility, including training and events. Add rooms for students from all over the world, track and field, cricket, football, boxing, and American sports meets like basketball and American football with thousands jetting in for the weekend.

Check the Chinese for interest and support and investment, They built it, and are quite taken up with the Bolt charisma, remembering what he did for that country in the Bolt (pardon Beijing) Olympics in 2008.

I am fascinated that the 'B' in Bolt's name also is the first letter in Beijing, Britain, Berlin, Brazil. And now bobsled.

Mystic Mountain is the epitome for sports marketing, see what they have done with the bobsled. Show kart in Discovery Bay also does an amusing and nostalgic depiction of the famous march across the finish line in Cool Runnings. And another bobsled hit could soon be in the making as the One-10 singers tune up at show kart with their original, “Jamaica got a bobsled team.”

Lance Neita is a public relations writer and publicist. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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