Winston Watts

Cool Runnings: Could Jamaican bobsled team return for Sochi Olympics?

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Get on up, it might be bobsled time for Jamaica again, 25 years after its debut at the 1988 Olympics that inspired the film, “Cool Runnings.”

The story of Jamaican bobsled continued through the Olympics in 1992, 1994 (where it beat both U.S. sleds), 1998 and 2002 (where it posted the fastest start time in the two-man). It missed the last two Games due to competitive and financial issues, problems that could again derail one of the potential feel-good stories six months out from the Sochi opening ceremony.

Still, the island nation of Usain Bolt, Bob Marley and Red Stripe clings to its winter sport. So much so that a member of the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Olympic teams is making a comeback — at age 46. Winston Watts came out of retirement in 2010, from the the oil fields of Wyoming, to bring Jamaican bobsled back to the Olympics.

“When you give up something you really do like, you cannot see it go away from you,” said Watts, in a thick accent, of leaving the sport after the missing the 2006 Olympics. “I came here out of retirement and decided, look, I’m very hungry. A hungry man is an angry man. And that is me. I am very angry because I want it.”

Watts, a former high school track and field athlete who is eight years younger than the oldest bobsledder in Olympic history, is in position to qualify a Jamaican two-man bobsled team for the 2014 Olympics, but it’s very precarious.

Here’s a simplified version of how Olympic qualification works for men’s bobsled:

The international bobsled federation (FIBT) uses a rankings system from results over various circuits across Europe and North America. A pilot must be ranked in the top 50 as of Jan. 19 to go to Sochi, but not all of the top 50 go. The field is limited to a maximum of 30 sleds.

The top three nations receive three sleds in the Olympics. The next six nations receive two sleds (assuming there are six more nations which have two pilots ranked in the top 50 — there currently are five). The field is rounded out by nations that receive one sled.

If the Olympic qualifiers were chosen today, Watts would make the two-man as No. 30 out of 30 but not the four-man. He is ranked No. 47 in the two-man and No. 60 in the four-man. It’s tougher for Watts in the four-man given how hard it is to get his Jamaican teammates to meet him for competitions across North America. (Watts lives in the rural community of Evanston, Wyo., while his push athletes fly in from Jamaica.)

So let’s focus on the two-man.

Through the FIBT selection procedures, Canada, Germany and the U.S. would get three sleds each. Latvia, Russia, Switzerland, Great Britain and the Netherlands would receive two sleds each. The nations with one sled would be (with ranking in parentheses) — Italy (11), Czech Republic (24), France (25), Japan (27), Australia (28), Poland (30), Austria (32), South Korea (35), Liechtenstein (36), Monaco (37) and Jamaica (47).

This assumes all of the pilots have met other criteria, such as completing five races over three tracks in the two years before Sochi. Watts has done two tracks (Calgary and Lake Placid) and plans on checking off the third and final one in nearby Park City, Utah, this fall.

If Watts can keep his spot in the top 50 by the January deadline, he stands a great chance of qualifying based on his ranking. But that’s not the only issue.

“Last season we didn’t have any funding whatsoever,” Watts said. “I had to use my own funding to reach where we’re at right now.”

Watts lives not in Jamaica, but in Evanston, a southwest Wyoming city of 12,000 whose motto is Fresh Air, Freedom, and Fun (serial comma included). The town has supported Jamaican bobsled for more than a decade. It’s an hour drive on Interstate 80 to Salt Lake City or Park City.

Specifically, Union Wireless, Perry Brothers Trucking, Inc., and T Bar S Body Shop, all Evanston businesses, are currently aiding Watts financially. (Update: as is ClearBra, Inc., in Salt Lake City) The city’s twice-a-week newspaper, the Uinta County Herald, profiled Watts last week.

A sign on Main Street dubs Evanston the headquarters of Jamaican bobsled. An Evanston attorney named Paul Skog led the charge in the late 1990s. Businesses came through, offering free motel rooms, a truck to get to and from Park City and general small-town hospitality.

Watts moved there eight years ago. A U.S. Olympic bobsledder, the retired Randy Jones, lended his expertise as well. Jones helped with logistics and finding sleds.

“It’s 100 percent a financial issue right now,” Jones, a 1994, 1998 and 2002 Olympian and silver medalist, said in a phone interview from his home in Georgia. “He doesn’t have enough. The Jamaican team doesn’t have enough finances to a) procure a good sled … and b) send him to the different events he needs to go to.”

Watts doesn’t have a sponsor on the same scale as the top European or North American countries. Nothing big enough to merit slapping a company’s sticker on the nose of his sled. Nothing big enough to consider trying to enter World Cup events in Europe.

“We’re getting some donations — $1,000 here, $2,000 there,” Skog said. “What would be really nice is if we can get one major sponsor, and then he could go racing through the season.”

There is a Jamaican bobsled federation, but it, too, is lacking sponsorship support, Watts said. The federation’s general secretary, Nelson “Chris” Stokes, was a member of that 1988 Jamaican bobsled team that inspired “Cool Runnings.”

“The original Jamaica bobsled story could not happen today,” said Stokes, whose team 25 years ago was founded by American businessmen who spent six figures of their own money preparing the team for the Calgary Games. “In 1988, when we went to the Olympics, we started in October and the Olympics were in February. That’s plain impossible now.”

Watts planned on flying to Kingston in mid-August to seek aid, even meet with the prime minister. He hopes. Watts’ personality can go a long way to making connections.

He lives with his mother, who cooks a lot of rice and beans for him, two sons and his girlfriend.

“He looks like a man of 30,” Skog said. “He portrays what people think of Jamaican bobsledders. He’s always happy, always in a good mood. He’s just jovial.”

Strong, too.

“He’s a mutant,” Stokes said.

Judge for yourself. Here’s Watts working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“When Winston Watts says he’s going to do something,” Skog said, “you can pretty much bank on it.”

To reach Watts or Jamaican Bobsled, you can visit Jamaicanbobsled.com.

One winter Olympian on Forbes’ highest-paid female athletes list

Katie Ledecky entered in 5 events at USA Swimming Nationals

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Katie Ledecky is signed up for five races at the USA Swimming National Championships (Summer Champions Series) next week.

The four-time Rio Olympic champion is entered in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles in Indianapolis. Full entry lists are here.

The top two per individual event qualify for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

Ledecky is slated to race four of five days in Indy, starting with a Tuesday double of the 100m and 800m frees. A full broadcast schedule is here.

At last year’s Olympic Trials, Ledecky raced the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, when there was no 1500m free on the Olympic program.

The women’s 1500m free will debut at Tokyo 2020, but it has been on the world championships program since 2001.

At this same meet in the last Olympic cycle in 2013, Ledecky contested the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, winning the three latter races and finishing second to Missy Franklin in the 200m free. Franklin will miss nationals next week as she continues to return from January shoulder surgeries.

Ledecky goes into this year’s nationals ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and No. 5 in the U.S. in the 100m free.

Ledecky showed marked improvement in the 100m free in the last four years. In Rio, she had the second-fastest split on the American 4x100m free relay team that took silver.

Ledecky is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. this year in the 400m individual medley but chose not to race it this summer.

Other headliners for nationals:

  • Ryan Murphy, Olympic 100m and 200m backstroke champion, is entered in all three backstrokes (50m, 100m and 200m) and the 100m freestyle, where he has an outside chance of earning a 4x100m relay berth.
  • Chase Kalisz, Olympic 400m IM silver medalist, is the top seed in the 200m IM and 400m IM and the No. 2 seed in the 200m butterfly.
  • Simone Manuel, four-time Rio medalist, is the top seed in the 50m and 100m frees and the No. 5 seed in the 200m free.
  • Lilly King, Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, is favored to make the team in the 50m, 100m and 200m breasts. She is also entered in the 200m IM.
  • The men’s 50m free is loaded with Olympic champions Anthony ErvinNathan AdrianCullen Jones and Caeleb Dressel as the top four seeds.

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Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor to stand trial on sex assault charges

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MASON, Mich. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered a longtime doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting six young gymnasts who said he molested them while they were seeking treatment for various injuries.

Judge Donald Allen Jr. made his decision after hearing testimony from the gymnasts over two days and watching a police interview of the doctor, Larry Nassar.

“He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Poviliatis told Allen during the hearing. “Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?”

The gymnasts consistently said that Nassar penetrated them with his ungloved hands, sometimes while their parents were in the room, at his Michigan State clinic, his home and at a Lansing-area gymnastics club. Some allegations go back to 2000.

Nassar was a doctor at Michigan State and at USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, until last year.

Prosecutors played a video of a 40-minute interview between campus police and Nassar last summer. He said he doesn’t get sexual pleasure from treating gymnasts. But he also said that if he had an erection, as a gymnast claimed, “that’s rather embarrassing.”

Nassar also is facing three more criminal cases, including one in federal court alleging he possessed child pornography. He’s pleaded not guilty. Separately, he’s being sued by dozens of women and girls.

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