KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA – The Jamaican bobsled team’s Olympic experience began with a four-hour weather delay at New York’s JFK Airport, a missed connection in Moscow and lost luggage upon arrival in Sochi.
And protein powder in their eyes on the bobsled track.
No worries. It takes a lot more than that to ruin their positive vibe.
“Jamaicans are the most loving, caring guys,” Jamaican pilot Winston Watts said. “You just have to go to Jamaica to know Jamaicans. We appreciate everyone in this world. Does not matter who you are, we still going to love you.”
Seriously, how do you not root for that?
Back in the Winter Olympics for what’s being hailed as “Cool Runnings 2,” the Jamaicans have achieved cult status because of their easygoing nature and against-all-odds back story.
The two-man team of Watts and brakeman Marvin Dixon qualified for Sochi after Watts came out of retirement. Their competition begins Sunday.
The Jamaican bobsledders earned international popularity after qualifying for the Calgary Games in 1988, the country’s debut in the Winter Olympics. The unlikely journey of that endearing four-man Caribbean bobsled team inspired the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings,” based on their story.
“Everyone laughs at the movie about the Jamaican bobsleigh team, but we’re no joke,” Dixon said. “We’re serious and here to compete.”
This is Watts’ fourth trip to the Olympics, and his first since Salt Lake City in 2002. The 46-year-old participated in his first Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.
Watts competed in previous Olympiads under the name Winston Watt, which apparently stemmed from a mistake on his passport. No worries. He didn’t even bother to fix it.
“I just flow with it,” he recently told the Telegraph newspaper. “It doesn’t matter what I compete under, I just use the name that suits the day. Winston Watt, Winston Watts. Whatever. Makes no difference, man.”
His fourth Olympic Games have not been without challenges, either. Initially, the Jamaicans didn’t have enough money to cover their costs. No worries. A social media fundraising campaign raised $178,000 to help pay for their expenses.
“We had to hold a news conference to ask people to stop [donating],” Watts said. “We are not greedy people. People want us to achieve, and they had not seen us for a long time in the Olympics. They were so overwhelmed and wanted to help us, so that we could get the equipment.”
That equipment got misplaced during the trip to Sochi, likely caused by a snowstorm that hit New York City on the day of their trip. The delay in getting their luggage and necessary equipment caused them to miss one practice run and led to a messy situation once they hit the track.
“We got our clothes, but [they were] full of protein powder,” Watts said. Airport security “opened the protein powder containers, and never closed the tins. … In my helmet I had protein powder going into my eyes.”
The Olympic bobsledding community has embraced the Jamaican team and offered its support in many ways. Team Canada offered to let the Jamaicans use their blades if their luggage failed to show in time.
“The bobsleigh circuit is like a family,” Watts said. “And they love Jamaicans. We make people smile all the time. When [other athletes] have a bad day, we just keep them going.”
The Jamaicans undoubtedly will have a large cheering section for them here, though their families were unable to travel to Sochi because of the cost.
“In Jamaica, people will gather near big TV screens on the streets to watch,” Watts said.
He admits he is a little uneasy about all the attention, and he is thankful that people care enough to help support them financially so that they can compete in these Olympics. But he doesn’t want to take attention away from other competitors.
“I don’t want to feel above everyone else,” Watts said. “Where I am from is a very poor family. I remember where I am coming from and try not to think that I am better than the other guys because I represent my country.”