KRASNAYA, POLYANA RUSSIA – Everything’s cool and running with Jamaica’s bobsled team.
They’re back inside the Olympic rings, and back on the track.
After their equipment was delayed in arriving to the Sochi Games, driver Winston Watts and his teammates got in their first two runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track on Thursday. The Jamaicans, who qualified for the first time since 2002, couldn’t train Wednesday because they arrived ahead of their luggage, which was on a later flight to Russia.
Without their clothing, sliding suits, helmets or the expensive runners for their two-man sled, the Jamaicans couldn’t do anything but watch on their first day at the Olympic venue.
Watts said the team got its gear around midnight, enabling them to take part in the second day of “unofficial” training. It wasn’t until the Jamaicans got to the track that they realized their belongings had been tampered with. Watts said security opened containers of protein powder and the contents spilled out on his clothes and equipment.
He even got powder in his eyes after putting on his helmet.
“Security went through them. I don’t know who, but the lids were open,” he said. “I didn’t look at my bags last night and all of the stuff was all over my stuff. Protein. They take the seal off and open. They may think there was something else in there.”
Not even the transit delay could dampen Watts’ enthusiasm in making it to his second Olympics — he shrugged it off in Jamaican style.
“We are from the sunshine,” he said, flashing his megawatt smile.
The Jamaicans didn’t race on the World Cup circuit this season, but they qualified for these games by accumulating enough points in lower-tier races in North America.
Qualifying was one thing, but the Jamaicans weren’t sure they were going to be able to make the trip because they didn’t have enough to cover the travel expenses as well as purchase additional sets of runners.
Jamaica needed help, and got it as the team quickly raised $178,000 before telling fans and friends to stop donating.
“We didn’t want them to think that we’re greedy people,” he said. “We said we wanted this to make it possible to get better equipment and that’s what our goal was. And apparently it went on and on because people want to achieve and they haven’t seen us for a long period of time.”
Although they’re a longshot to win a medal, the Jamaicans, whose inspiring journey to the Calgary Games in 1988 was told in the film, “Cool Runnings,” have helped pull the spotlight toward bobsled.
American driver Steven Holcomb said having the Jamaicans around is great for the sport.
“They did work hard,” said Holcomb, who will defend his gold medal in four-man. “It’s not easy to qualify for the games. They were trying in ’06, they missed. They tried in ’10, they missed. They tried again, they made it. So it’s good to have that exposure.”
Watts said he and his teammates have always felt embraced by the world’s other sliders.
“All the guys in here, we are a family,” the 46-year-old veteran said. “The bobsleigh circuit is like a family and we’re welcomed. All people love Jamaica. When Jamaica is not around, they’re not happy because we are a fun-loving, caring group. We make people smile all the time even when they are having a bad day. We just keep them going.”
Bobsled isn’t Jamaica’s best sport. Not by a long way.
The island nation is home to sprinter Usain Bolt, six-time Olympic champion and the world’s fastest man.
Watts hopes to hear from Bolt while he’s in Russia, and joked that he may one day ask him to jump in his sled.
“He would be a very good pusher, but he’s not a person who likes cold,” Watts said. “He’s said that. It would be awesome to have him on my team because a strong guy like me and him, could you imagine that?”