Jamaica, you have a bobsled team for the Beijing Olympics! (and an Alpine skier)

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Jamaica will have a four-man bobsled team at the Olympics for the first time in 24 years, conjuring memories of “Cool Runnings.”

Jamaica grabbed the final spot in the 28-sled field in qualification for the Beijing Games, based on international results this season.

Jamaica qualified in three Olympic bobsled events for the first time, also earning the last spot in two-man and a place in the new Olympic event of women’s monobob. It missed a two-woman spot on a tiebreaker but can get in as first alternate if one qualified nation gives up a spot.

Jamaica hasn’t announced its Olympic roster yet, but Shanwayne Stephens is expected to pilot the four-man sled. Rolando Reid, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe have been push athletes in all of Stephens’ four-man races this season, with a top finish of fifth on the lower-level North American Cup.

In 2020, Stephens, a lance corporal in the Royal Air Force, made headlines in Great Britain for unusual off-ice training during the coronavirus pandemic: pushing a Mini Cooper in Peterborough. He later mentioned it to Queen Elizabeth II on a video chat.

“Well I suppose that’s one way to train,” the queen said with a laugh.

Beijing marks the first Winter Games since the death of the first Jamaican bobsled driver, Sam Clayton.

Jamaica bobsled rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, its four-man team that failed to finish inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

But the recent sleds were in the two-man event.

The last time Jamaica had a four-man sled was at the 1998 Nagano Games. That was also the last time the Olympic team had a link to the famed 1998 quartet — brothers Chris and Dudley Stokes. Chris is now the president of Jamaica’s bobsled federation.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, whose father is Jamaican. A Jamaican men’s sled missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Jamaica will also have a skier at the Winter Olympics for the second time in history, and for the first time in Alpine skiing.

Benjamin Alexander, a former DJ raised in Great Britain, qualified a quota spot for the nation in giant slalom. More on Alexander’s personal story here.

Other notable qualifiers from non-traditional winter sports nations (stats via Olympedia.org, pending accepting the quota spots):

  • American Samoa: men’s skeleton, the second time the nation will be at a Winter Olympics
  • Brazil: first moguls skier ever
  • Ecuador: first female Winter Olympian, an Alpine skier
  • Haiti: first Winter Olympian, at least a male Alpine skier
  • Kenya: Sabrina Simader qualifying a quota spot for a second consecutive Olympics after becoming Kenya’s first female Winter Olympian
  • Mexico: first figure skater since 1992
  • Nigeria: a male cross-country skier, its first skier ever
  • Puerto Rico: women’s skeleton, its first female Winter Olympian in 34 years
  • Saudi Arabia: first Winter Olympian, at least a male Alpine skier
  • Trinidad and Tobago: two-man bobsled, first Winter Olympians since 2002

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long
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One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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