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

Usain Bolt lands in Rio for his final Olympics

Usain Bolt
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Usain Bolt has arrived in Brazil for what he says will be his final Olympics.

Rio 2016 posted a photo and video of Bolt landing in Rio on Wednesday night.

Bolt was asked by a reporter if he dreamed about gold medals on his flight and responded, “I didn’t sleep at all,” according to the Jamaica Gleaner.

The world’s fastest man is scheduled to race the 100m, 200m and 4x100m, looking to sweep the events for a third straight Games. He is already the only man to sweep them at consecutive Olympics.

The Jamaican Olympic track and field team is in the middle of a pre-Games training camp in Brazil ahead of the Opening Ceremony Aug. 5.

His first race is scheduled to be his first round of the 100m on Aug. 13.

Bolt raced last Friday for the first time in nearly one month after pulling out during the Jamaican Olympic Trials with a hamstring injury.

He goes into the Olympics ranked Nos. 4 and 5 in the world this year in the 100m and 200m but swept them at the 2015 World Championships despite going in as an underdog to Justin Gatlin.

VIDEO: ‘I am Bolt’ documentary on Usain Bolt trailer

‘The Last Gold’ to air on NBCSN on Monday

The Last Gold
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Inspired by the recent rush of acclaimed sports documentaries, USA Swimming officials batted around ideas to join the movement a year and a half ago.

Executive director Chuck Wielgus, assistant executive director Mike Unger and chief marketing official Matt Farrell had put their heads together.

“We pretty quickly settled on this particular story,” Wielgus said in a phone interview. “It has such immense impact, especially with the old-timers in the swimming community. It hung over everybody like a cloud. It seemed like the right opportunity to do it.”

The result, “The Last Gold,” airs on NBCSN on Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET, four nights before the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“The Last Gold” spotlights the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s swimming team and the East German doping scandal.

At the Montreal Games, the U.S. men’s swimmers absolutely dominated, taking 12 of 13 gold medals with world records in 11 of those events.

But the U.S. women ran into a dubious and overpowering opponent.

The East Germans had yet to earn an Olympic women’s swimming gold medal in two previous Games. But the team had become a juggernaut by Montreal, the product of a state-sponsored doping program that wouldn’t be more fully exposed until after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Following defeat after defeat in individual races, four U.S. women rallied for one last showdown with East Germany in the 4x100m free relay.

“The Last Gold” focuses on that American quartet — Shirley BabashoffWendy BoglioliKim Peyton (passed away in 1986) and Jill Sterkel.

“The 40th anniversary coming up, the fact that only three of the athletes were still alive, and getting older, we wanted to tell the story when they could still help to tell it,” Wielgus said. “It’s almost serendipitous with what’s going on with the whole Russian situation right now. [In 2015] We saw this educational opportunity to share with current and future generations of athletes and pull back the layers and expose some of the evils of doping.”

East Germany has not been stripped of its 1976 Olympic swimming medals.

In 1998, USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee appealed to the International Olympic Committee.

“To ask for recognition of those athletes who we could prove had been cheated out of medals,” Wielgus said. “There were trials going on in Germany, and people were being found guilty. We made this appeal with the USOC, to the IOC, and the appeal was shot down. It was shot down unequivocally. Our position today is that we are not bringing that up again. We made that effort, and we might not like it, but we accept the response we got from the IOC. There’s been no indication they would change their position on it.”

Casey Barrett, a 1996 Canadian Olympic swimmer, served as a writer for “The Last Gold.” Brian T. Brown, a 15-time Emmy Award winner, directed. Emmy-winning actress Julianna Margulies narrated.

“The Last Gold” was screened for the current U.S. swim team at both the Olympic Trials and at a pre-Olympic camp in Atlanta this week.

It premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 6 as one of 12 documentaries chosen from over 4,000 submissions.

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