Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!

Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!
By Reuters

20/12/2005 at 12:04Updated

The Jamaican bobsleigh team started as the result of a bet and its first members encountered unexpected difficulties. "I had a hard time walking on the ice," recalled Devon Harris, one of the four-man team who won hearts, though no races, at the 1988 Calg

"I said to myself: 'This bobsleigh thing is harder than I thought. If I can't walk on ice how am I going to run on it?'"

Harris and his fellow team members from Calgary still cherish the memories of Jamaica's Winter Olympic debut.

"One of the most memorable things was the reception by the public," said Dudley Stokes, who was the driver on the team which also included his brother Chris and Michael Whyte.

"I didn't think we would be of any interest to anyone. (I guess) people saw the team as a great oddity because we were a Caribbean nation indulging in a winter sport and that struck a chord with people."

The team were feted as heroes in Calgary where Jamaican bobsleigh T-shirts and pins became collectors' items.

Jamaica's unlikely entry into bobsleigh came after a wager involving two American friends who lived on the island, William Maloney and George Fitch.

"They figured that since Jamaica has such fast sprinters they could get some of them to compete for the bobsleigh team," said Stokes recently.

"But none of the guys from the Summer Games were interested -- track and field is a glamorous sport and bobsleigh is not. So what they did next was to come to the military and recruit some people."

FOUR MONTHS

Dudley Stokes, Harris and Whyte were all enlisted in the military and were introduced to bobsleigh by a senior officer who was helping to get the sport going. Samuel Clayton, a railway engineer, was the fourth original member of the team but he was replaced by Chris Stokes at the Olympics.

"I called him (Chris) while he was in school doing his MBA and told him we were going to the Olympics and he came to watch," Dudley recalled. "The coach heard that he could run 10.16 seconds in the 100 metres and immediately put him on the team."

The team started training in October 1987, only four months before the Olympics.

"The team selection took place in September and the first time we saw ice together was in October of 1987," Dudley said. "We really didn't start training fulltime until November."

The team trained at Lake Placid in New York and in Igls, Austria, under the guidance of American coach Howard Siler.

News spread that Jamaica was entering a bobsleigh team in the Games and they became celebrities in Canada.

There was no fairytale ending, however. The team's runs were filled with spills and falls, including a famous crash in the heats where their cart overturned. They ended at the bottom of the points tables.

The story captured the imagination of Disney film makers and the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings" was the end product.

"That movie was made on a very small budget totalling 275,000 U.S. dollars," said Stokes.

UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY

He was one of the luckiest team members, earning some $20,000 from the project, but none of the team received any royalties from the film.

Financial reward, though, was not the aim, Harris said.

"I always wanted to represent my country at the Olympics," said Harris. "And I got this unique opportunity where I could do that."

In their second Games in Albertville in 1992, Jamaica's four-man team finished 24th and two years later, in Lillehammer, they impressed their opponents by finishing 14th, beating American, Russian, French and Italian teams.

Lack of funds meant they did not send a four-man team to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympics but the two-man team finished 28th out of 37 entries and set a track start record.

Sponsors already behind them for Turin include car makers Fiat, who have their headquarters in the city.

Stokes, now president of the Jamaica Bobsled Federation, said his experience as a pioneer in the sport taught him valuable life lessons.

"Through bobsleigh I learnt how to fight for whatever I want," he said. "It's not the victory but the struggle and it's in the struggle that I have found my personal fulfilment and improved myself as a person all round."

Harris, now a motivational speaker, wrote in an article on website jamaicans.com last month: "I believe that dreams are the starting point for all worthwhile achievements...Through dreams you create vision...Through vision you are able to create a clear, concise mental picture of the future and then embark on your goals."

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