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

IOC extends provisional measures against Russia

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Two days before the release of a new report into Russian doping, the IOC on Wednesday extended the provisional sanctions imposed on the country over allegations of systematic cheating and cover-ups.

The International Olympic Committee executive board said the measures imposed on July 19 have been extended “until further notice.”

The sanctions, originally designed to apply until the end of this year, were put into place following the first report by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren that alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia.

Under the measures, the IOC will not organize or “give patronage” to any sports events or meetings in Russia. In addition, the IOC urges all Olympic winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia,” including world championships and World Cups and “to actively look for alternative organizers.”

Separately, the IOC also released its latest figures from this year’s retesting of stored doping samples from the 2012 London Olympics and 2008 Beijing Games, putting the total so far of positive cases at 101, with three new positives recorded since the 98 cases announced in July. Russian athletes and the sport of weightlifting were the worst offenders.

IOC medical director Dr. Richard Budgett said he expects “many more” positives from the London Games to be confirmed in the coming weeks. To date, the retests have caught at least 27 medalists from Beijing and 16 from London, including five gold medalists.

The IOC executive board released a statement that set out its position ahead of Friday’s r release in London of McLaren’s second and final report into the Russian scandal.

The Canadian lawyer’s first report, issued in July, led WADA to recommend Russia’s exclusion from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The IOC rejected the call, instead allowing international federations to decide which Russians could compete.

Friday’s report is expected to focus on evidence of organized Russian doping centered on the Sochi Games, including allegations that tainted samples of Russian athletes — including medalists — were swapped for clean ones through a concealed hole in the wall of the drug-testing lab.

The IOC said the allegations “go to the heart of the Olympic Games and are a fundamental attack on their integrity.”

The committee said “due process” must be followed, meaning McLaren’s evidence must be evaluated and those implicated — including athletes and the Russian Sports Ministry — “have to be given the right to be heard.”

Once the investigations are complete, the IOC will “take all the appropriate measures and sanctions,” including disqualification of athletes from the games and exclusion of implicated officials, entourage or government officials from the Olympics, the statement said.

The IOC’s call for a “freeze” on major events in Russia has been called into question by Russia’s hosting of the 2017 World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships in Sochi. Some athletes have suggested they could boycott the event.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the resolution did not cover events that were “already planned.”

“As it stands that event was planned beforehand and doesn’t contravene the IOC’s call as far as I understand,” he said.

Questions have also been raised over the recent decision to award the 2021 World Biathlon Championships to Russia in the Siberian city of Tyumen. International Biathlon Union President Anders Besseberg has said the event could be relocated if more evidence of state-backed doping emerges.

Outside of the Olympics, international federations have the authority to sanction athletes and their entourage and potentially suspend national federations, the IOC said.

McLaren’s report will be sent to two separate IOC inquiry commissions. One is looking into the allegations of Russian state involvement in doping, the other is investigating the athletes and the doping samples.

Meanwhile, the IOC said it has so far sanctioned 79 athletes whose samples came back positive this year in reanalysis with improved techniques that can detect use of steroids going back weeks rather than days. The IOC stores doping samples for 10 years, allowing them to be retested when new methods become available.

Budgett said the Beijing testing is now complete, while more samples remain to be reanalyzed from London.

“There will be many more (positives) to come in the future because the program is continuing,” he said. “In the coming weeks and months we should expect more from London.”

Budgett said McLaren is investigating samples for Sochi, and they will be turned over to the IOC for forensic examination and reanalysis. Sixty blood samples from Russian athletes have already been checked and did not produce any positive findings, he said.

Russia has been by far the worst violator in the retesting program, with 16 of its athletes out of the 44 caught from Beijing, and 11 out of the 29 from London so far.

Budgett said it would be “speculation” to conclude that the figures support evidence of an organized Russian doping program.

“It adds some substance to the debate but it doesn’t actually tell us what goes on,” he said.

Weightlifting was the sport with the most positives — 38 out of the 79 from London and Beijing, followed by track and field with 31.

Many critics have called for weightlifting to be kicked out of the Olympics because of its doping record.

“I suppose you could say every sport is at risk,” Budgett said. “Weightlifting has got a good anti-doping program in place at the moment. It’s a judgment as to what went on in the past and what they are doing now.”

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Adelina Sotnikova likely to skip whole season, eyes 2018 Olympics

SAITAMA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 03:  Adelina Sotnikova of Russia competes in the Ladies Singles Free Skating during the Japan Open 2015 Figure Skating at Saitama Super Arena on October 3, 2015 in Saitama, Japan.  (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
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Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova will miss the Russian Championships later this month and will likely sit out this whole season but still hopes to defend her title in Pyeongchang, according to R-Sport.

Earlier this year, Sotnikova stopped preseason training due to a health issue, decided not to compete but rather perform in less-demanding ice shows this fall, according to the report, citing her manager.

Sotnikova, 20, last competed at the 2015 Russian Championships, finishing sixth and failing to make the three-woman Russian team for last season’s European and world championships.

She did not compete in major events in the 2014-15 season due to injury and in 2015-16 skated at one top-level international event, finishing third at the November 2015 Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.

In Sochi, Sotnikova became the first Olympic women’s figure skating champion without a prior Olympic or world championships individual medal.

Russian women’s figure skating has only solidified in Sotnikova’s absence since Sochi, complicating her path to making the 2018 Olympic team.

Yevgenia Medvedeva and Anna Pogorilaya were the two best female skaters this fall. Yelena Radionova and Maria Sotskova will join them in the six-skater Grand Prix Final this week.

Russia can send three women to the European Championships in January and world championships in March. The results of the Russian Championships later this month will largely determine the makeup of those teams.

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