Cool Runnings? "We're more than just a movie"

The Jamaican men are ready to write their own script at Beijing 2022, but they wouldn't mind having Usain Bolt on the dream team. 

By Ken Browne

Jamaica have a bobsleigh team, and they want to be taken seriously at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

In fact, three entries in Jamaica colours - two-man, four-man and women's monobob - will push off in China looking to mix it with the best in the world.

Mention 'Jamaica' and 'bobsleigh' in the same sentence and people will inevitably think of the Calgary 1988 team immortalised by Hollywood in 'Cool Runnings', but 34 years later a new team is out to forge a new identity in China.

Shanwayne Stephens, Ashley Watson, Matthew Wekpe, Nimroy Turgott, and Rolando Reid are their names.

"We're more than just a movie," says Stephens, who pilots both the two-man bob and Jamaica's first four-man crew since Nagano 1998.

"We want to show we're actually fierce competitors and we're out there to put on a really good performance at the Games."

So how would they define themselves?

"We're the fire and ice," says brakeman Turgott, "because we are from a tropical island with sunny temperatures, so we're going to the Olympics to melt the place!"

Read More: Jamaican bobsleigh team 1988 and the movie Cool Runnings

Jamaica bobsled team for Beijing 2022

Turning the heat up in Beijing is the aim but even getting this far was remarkable for Team Jamaica during COVID.

"People don't see the qualification," Push athlete Wekpe says, "what we need to do to qualify. And the fact that we qualified in the top 50 percent in a two and four-man shows that we're actually here to push and compete with the best."

Not even lockdown was going to stop them.

"We were completely locked down over COVID and we wanted to make sure that we were 100 percent prepared to be able to qualify," says Stephens.

"So we had to come up with creative ways of getting the training done. So myself and Nimroy, we were locked down in my house together, so we decided to go out and push my fiance's mini up and down the street."

It was a story that even the UK's Queen Elizabeth II liked when Stephens, a Royal Air Force (RAF) regiment gunner, got the chance to tell her on a video call.

"Well, I suppose that's one way to train," Her Majesty said with a chuckle.

"It was once in a lifetime opportunity to actually speak to the Queen," Stephens says, "I think she's now a big Jamaican bobsleigh fan. I said I'll send her a signed T-shirt."

Pushing a small car around wasn't the only training they did though.

"We built a home gym in the back garden out of timber, made weights out of cement and stuff like that."

Turgott says all the work was worth it.

"We have been dreaming about this moment because we missed it by one single slot four years ago.

"And to know that we actually put in the work and qualified this time, we are absolutely buzzing and ready to bring the Jamaican vibes to the Olympics."

Does Jamaica have a bobsled team?

It does! So what does it feel like to flash through a tunnel of ice at up to 150km per hour?

"It's a massive adrenaline rush," they say, reaching for a way to describe it:

'Like a coin in a tin can shaken up and down... Or maybe sitting in the washing machine, and selecting a full spin."

Watson came up with perhaps the best analogy: "Like a boxing match with Mike Tyson, but all the rounds in one."

This Jamaican team took different paths to the ice - Wekpe, born in south-east London, had a successful amateur athletics career and even trialled for American Football giants the Miami Dolphins.

He's also set to play with the Jamaican rugby sevens team at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.

"Because Nimroy couldn't get to Europe because of COVID, Shan reached out to the Jamaican sevens team," Wekpe says.

"Two weeks later, I do some testing... and a few weeks later, I was literally out for the first time in a sled. I'd never seen a sled before!

"It was crazy to go from nothing to being on ice for the first time and then to World Cups."

The team has sacrificed a lot to get here.

Reid was a promising athlete until injuries took their toll, but now he's all in for his first Winter Games.

“I’ve literally dedicated every single thing to this; lost my job in the process," he told Sports Max.

"And I’m a new father as well so that’s a whole different thing. Giving up time with family just to make this dream a reality, so I have given it my all pretty much."

Watson was born in Peterborough and is a physiotherapist and part-time powerlifter.

Stephens got the chance through the RAF where bobsleighing is used for "adventure training and personal development."

He said, "I literally just saw a poster on the wall one day that says 'Fancy having to go at this?' Went to the trials and then I've been bobsleighing ever since.

"I started bobsleigh in 2015 with the Air Force and then had the opportunity to trial with the Jamaican team in 2017. That's when I met Nimroy. We basically started at the same time."

Turgott can run the 100m in 10.1 seconds and used to train with former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell.

Jamaican bobsleigh dream team

So who would make their Jamaican bobsleigh dream team?

Powell is definitely in as the four pick from some of Jamaica's greatest sprinters. And there's plenty to pick from.

Eventually they settle on:

Nesta Carter, Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell, (the driver, they say) and Usain Bolt at the back.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely they'll convince Bolt to come out of retirement to give them a push, "I saw his tweet," says Watson, "Somebody asked him to get involved, and he said it's too cold."

There's a wealth of talent to choose a four-woman team from too:

It's former sprinter and PyeongChang 2018 Olympian Carrie Russell as pilot, then Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson, and Elaine Thompson-Herah on brakes, who get the nod.

That would be one fast sled.

Beijing 2022 aim: To be the best Jamaican team in history

So what's the aim in Beijing?

Watson takes this one: "Personally, I want this team to be the best Jamaican team in history. So that means in the four-man sled, we would have to beat 14th place."

Jamaica finished 14th at Lillehammer 1994.

"But obviously," continues Watson, "You never go to the Olympics not wanting a medal... You always go for a medal, we can only do the best we can do and then hopefully that's enough to get a medal, but we'll see."

To get this far is an achievement in itself and one that pilot Stephens is proud of. "We're a small nation and we achieve great things from little resources."

So if they do make that podium and another Hollywood hit film is in the making, who's playing them in the movie?

"Idris Elba," says Stephens.

Wekpe's not having that: "No, no, no. Idris Elba is not that short. He's my height. That's me. I'm Idris!

"I think, Rolando - Dave Chappelle. Nimroy will be Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And Shan would be like RoboCop, or somebody short... Kevin Hart."

Whatever happens in Beijing, it'll be fun.


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