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

Kerri Walsh Jennings eyes 2020 Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17:  Kerri Walsh Jennings of the United States celebrates a point during the Beach Volleyball Women's Bronze medal match against Larissa Franca Maestrini and Talita Rocha of Brazil on day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Beach Volleyball Arena on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If Kerri Walsh Jennings had to decide now, she’s in for Tokyo 2020.

In recent weeks, Walsh Jennings has warmed more and more to trying for a sixth Olympics at age 41, after taking bronze with April Ross in Rio. In 2020, the three-time Olympic champion will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

In December, Walsh Jennings told an NCAA women’s indoor volleyball championship crowd that her kids’ first words to her after she came home from Rio were, “You didn’t win gold,” according to Flovolleyball. Her response? “Tokyo 2020, kids.”

On Jan. 10, a tweet from Walsh Jennings’ account tagged “TokyoGold2020” and “AllIn.” Her Twitter bio now includes, “aspiring to be MY best #Tokyo2020.”

Then in an interview with Seth Davis published Wednesday, she reaffirmed it.

“You’re asking me right this moment. I’m in to go win a gold medal [in 2020],” she said. “That’s like, period, end of statement with regard to me. I’m a family of five, and this journey requires total commitment from not just myself but my kids and my husband and so many other people. So I need to get on the same page with my hubby because it’s a lonely life when I’m traveling the world. He’s an athlete as well [beach volleyball player Casey Jennings], but he’s retired from the international scene, so he’s home. If I go four more years, which I want to, I need to consider lots of things, but, yes, I’m in.”

Walsh Jennings and Ross are set to make their 2017 season debut in Fort Lauderdale next month. Previously, Ross was planning to take 2017 off to have a child.

MORE: U.S. beach volleyball Olympians open season with new partners

President Obama honors Olympians in final press conference (video)

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Barack Obama has honored Olympians in his final days as president, including specifically naming gold medalists Simone Biles and Michael Phelps on Wednesday.

At his final presidential press conference, Obama brought up the Olympics when asked if he thought there would be another black president.

His answer at the 41:45 mark in the above video:

“I think I’ve used this analogy before. We killed it in the Olympics in Brazil. And Michelle and I, we always have our — the Olympic team here. And it’s a lot of fun, first of all, just because, you know, anytime you’re meeting somebody who’s the best at anything, it’s impressive.

And these mostly very young people are all just so healthy looking, and they just beam and exude fitness and health. And so we have a great time talking to them. But they are of all shapes, sizes, colors. You know, the genetic diversity that is on display is remarkable.

And if you look at Simone Biles, and then you look at a Michael Phelps, they’re completely different. And it’s precisely because of those differences that we’ve got people here who can excel at any sport.

And by the way, more than half of our medals [in Rio] came from women. And the reason is is because we had the foresight several decades ago with something called Title IX to make sure that women got opportunities in sports, which is why our women compete better, because they have more opportunities than folks in other countries.

I use that as a metaphor, and if in fact we continue to keep opportunity open to everybody, then yeah, we’re going to have a woman president. We’re going to have a Latino president. We’ll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president. Who knows who we’re going to have.

I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call ’em.”

MORE: Obama appoints four Olympic medalists to positions