When the Jamaican four-man bobsled team made their Olympic debut in 1988, the story went on to inspire the much adored Disney film “Cool Runnings” — and the unlikely underdogs from Jamaica helped familiarize the unique sport for the masses.
And Saturday, for the first time since the 1998 Winter Games, Jamaica has a four-man bobsled team in the Olympics. Their sled will be piloted by Shanwayne Stephens, with Rolando Reid, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe as the push athletes.
“I think it’s everybody’s dream to represent their country, and we’re here doing it, living it and breathing it,” Stephens said earlier this week after competing in the two-man bobsled event.
Jamaica is one of 28 teams competing in the four-man bobsled competition on Saturday. The top teams move forward to the finals on Sunday.
Competing may be the big win for Jamaica, which is ranked last after the first two heats Saturday. Germany leads, with teams in the first and second spots.
In some ways, the Jamaican team is leaning in to the movie’s narrative. For one, Wekpe carries a plastic egg with him, as did the movie’s fictional brakeman, Sanka Coffie.
But they also want to tell their own story. In fact, the team recorded a song to spread its message: “We’re not just a movie,” the lyrics begin.
In an interview on the Olympics website, Stephens said that, “We want to show we’re actually fierce competitors, and we’re out there to put on a really good performance at the Games.”
Reid is from Jamaica and ran track at Morgan State University, a historically Black college in Maryland. His journey in bobsledding began in 2019, after his brother expressed interest in the sport.
To help prepare for the Games, Reid returned to his alma mater to train with the track team. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, the former track and field star said he only started learning how to run on ice in September.
Reid is not the only teammate new to the sport. Wekpe, who has represented Jamaica on the international stage in rugby, began training with the bobsled team just one year ago, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Stephens, the pilot, and Watson, one of the pushers, bring the most experience to the Jamaican team. Watson, who is from Peterborough, England, first started sledding in 2013, but took a hiatus before recently returning to the sport. Stephens, who was born in Jamaica but grew up in Britain, began sledding in 2015 after he joined the Royal Air Force.
Stephens made headlines early in the pandemic when it was revealed that his training program during lockdown involved pushing his fiancé’s car around Peterborough. (In recounting his regimen to Queen Elizabeth II during a video call, Stephens elicited a chuckle from Her Majesty, who added, “Well, I suppose that’s one way to train.”)
The historical importance of Jamaica’s 2022 bobsledding story doesn’t end there. The nation also has a team in the two-man bobsled event and a female athlete in the monobob competition, an individual sledding event that made its Olympic debut, making this the first time the country has qualified for three bobsledding events in a single Olympics.