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

17-year-old runs 3:52 mile at Pre Classic

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Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 17-year-old Norwegian, clocked 3:52.28 at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday, faster than Alan Webb‘s U.S. high school record set at Pre in 2001.

“My goal was to take Alan Webb’s record,” Ingebrigtsen told media in Eugene, Ore.

It’s the second-fastest mile in history recorded by somebody younger than 18, according to the IAAF. Qatar’s Hamza Driouch ran 3:50.90 in 2012, clocked two months before two years of his results would be annulled by a doping ban.

Webb famously ran 3:53.43 as an 18-year-old at Pre in 2001, which led to him appearing on “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Ingebrigtsen, who ran 3:58 at Pre last year to become the youngest sub-4-minute miler in history, finished fourth in a field of the world’s best middle-distance runners. His two older brothers, Filip and Henrik, are also middle-distance runners (but weren’t in Saturday’s race).

Ingebrigtsen beat Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz (fifth) and Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy (sixth) in the Bowerman Mile. The race’s second-place finisher is 18 years old — Ethiopian Samuel Tefera ran 3:51.26

Webb was at Saturday’s meet, in part to award the 400th man to run a sub-4-minute mile in Pre Classic history.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m

Christian Coleman beaten, Tori Bowie injured at Pre Classic

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American Ronnie Baker stunned world silver medalist Christian Coleman to win the Prefontaine Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.78 seconds on Saturday, while world champion Tori Bowie suffered a leg injury in the women’s 100m.

Coleman, in his first individual race of the outdoor season, was passed by Baker midway through and finished second in 9.84 in Eugene, Ore. Coleman was last year’s breakout sprinter, taking silver between Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt in the last individual race of Bolt’s career and posting the fastest wind-legal time of the year (9.82).

Coleman said after Saturday’s race he was recovering from “tweaking something in my leg.” He withdrew from his scheduled season opener two weeks ago and, earlier this week, was scratched from running the 200m in addition to the 100m at Pre.

Baker also won the Pre 100m last year but was eliminated in the semifinals at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, failing to make the world championships team. Baker also exited in the semifinals of the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Born in Louisville, Baker’s family moved to Alaska when he was 5. He ran cross-country in elementary school in Anchorage, avoiding the moose, before coming back to Kentucky in middle school. He was recruited to TCU in the 400m but went down to the 100m and 200m as a sophomore when the team was loaded with one-lap talent.

Gatlin was scheduled to race the Pre 100m but withdrew earlier this week with a reported right hamstring injury. Baker, Coleman and Gatlin could race each other at nationals in Des Moines next month.

With no Olympics or world outdoor championships this year, the Pre Classic is one of the premier meets, if not the greatest collection of talent. It’s also the last Pre before Hayward Field is demolished and rebuilt for 2020.

Bowie, who earned a medal of every color in Rio, was helped off the track by two officials after pulling up in the final meters of the women’s 100m. She said an upper leg muscle “grabbed pretty bad,” according to Lewis Johnson on NBC.

Ivorians Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Murielle Ahoure went one-two in 10.88 and 10.90, while Olympic champ Elaine Thompson was third in 10.98. Thompson, shockingly fifth at last year’s worlds, has now been beaten in both Diamond League 100m races this season.

PRE CLASSIC: Full Results

In other events, South African Caster Semenya extended her 800m winning streak to 23 meets dating to September 2015 by winning in her typical easy fashion in 1:55.92. Semenya, who led for the last 300 meters, clocked the fastest time ever on U.S. soil. She’s expected to be impacted by an IAAF rule limiting testosterone levels for female middle-distance runners scheduled to go into effect after this season.

Noah Lyles, a 20-year-old American on the rise, matched the fastest 200m in the world this year of 19.69, a personal best.

“I’m a little scared,” Lyles said on NBC. “I didn’t think I was going to run this fast this season. … I’m here to dominate.”

Olympic gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo won an Allyson Felix-less 400m in 49.52, the fastest time in the world this year. Felix, who withdrew from Pre for undisclosed reasons on Friday, is the only other woman to run that fast in the last three years.

Olympic and world triple jump champion Christian Taylor needed a final jump of 17.73 meters to overtake rival Will Claye.

Matthew Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champ in 108 years, finished sixth in the Bowerman Mile won by Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in 3:49.87.

The 2012 Olympic pole vault gold medalist Jenn Suhr won her first Diamond League event in five years, clearing 4.85 meters. Rio gold and silver medalists Katerina Stefanidi and Sandi Morris were seventh and third.

Rio champ Ryan Crouser prevailed in a shot put competition that included every reigning Olympic and world medalist. Crouser broke the meet record with his fifth throw of 22.53 meters.

Olympic gold and silver medalists Consenslus Kipruto and Evan Jager were upset by Kenyan Benjamin Kigen in the 3000m steeplechase. Kigen, who has no Olympic or worlds experience, clocked 8:09.07, the fastest time in the world this year. Kipruto and Jager crossed together, 2.64 seconds later.

Jamaica’s Omar McLeod pulled away in the 110m hurdles, clocking a wind-aided 13.01 seconds. McLeod, the reigning Olympic and world champion, has only lost one 110m hurdles race since the start of 2017 (when he suffered a leg injury mid-race).

Olympic 400m hurdles champion Dalilah Muhammad was passed by Jamaican Janieve Russell in the final strides, getting edged by .03. Russell’s winning time of 54.06 is 1.31 seconds shy of the fastest time in the world held by Sydney McLaughlin, who is still in her NCAA season for Kentucky.

Shelby Houlihan, an Olympian in the 5000m, stunned Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson in the 1500m, surging in the home stretch and clocking 3:59.06, a personal best by 4.33 seconds. The race lacked Olympic and world champion Faith Kipyegon, who is sitting out this season due to pregnancy.

Elsewhere Saturday, the longest winning streak in the sport ended. Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk lost for the first time in nearly four years at a small meet in Germany in her first competition since Aug. 15, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The Diamond League moves to Rome for a meet Thursday with live coverage on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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VIDEO: Kenyan star nearly falls, comes back to win Pre Classic 800m