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Jamaica has produced one of the premier summer Olympians in history in Usain Bolt. On the other hand, Jamaica and the Winter Olympics seem to go together about as well as Jamaica and, well, anything involving snow.
But in a story that harkens back to one of the most famous Winter Olympics stories, Jamaica's bobsled team has qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Now, the team just has to drum up enough funds to get to Russia.
Jamaica's bobsled team hasn't been to the Olympics since 2002. But when all the years of qualifying shook out, when every single mathematical possibility had filtered through, Jamaica had indeed qualified for the Sochi Games for its two-man bobsled team.
There's just one catch: the team needs money. Lots of money.
Bobsled pilot Winston Watts, age 46, is a veteran of three Winter Olympic Games and came out of retirement to return Jamaican bobsleds to the Olympics. Now, he's also leading the fundraising campaign to drum up at least $80,000 to travel to Sochi.
“In truth, we still don’t really know at the moment if we’d even have enough funds or sponsorship to fly to Sochi itself for the Games itself,” Watts told the London Telegraph. “It all depends. Our families need to be taken care of first. If there’s no funding, who knows?"
When Jamaica's first bobsled team exploded into the worldwide consciousness in 1988, American business interests and the Jamaica Olympic Association stepped in to help foot the costs. Those options have, for the moment, dried up, so Watts has taken his cause straight to the virtual streets.
The bobsled team is now pursuing a crowdfunding effort, seeking to harness a few dollars from thousands of people rather than thousands from a few donors. Jamaica has partnered with CrowdTilt to create a crowdfunding site, and as of 11 p.m. ET, the fundraising effort had raised $15,000, with eight days remaining in the campaign.
The first Jamaican bobsled team competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and became a cultural sensation that inspired songs and a 1993 movie, "Cool Runnings," that starred the late John Candy:
Recently, Yahoo Sports spoke with many of the principals involved in the original "Jamaica bobsled" movement, and produced this "Memorable Moments" documentary:
If this year's team is able to pull off the fundraising necessary to get to Sochi, it's a good bet they'll have a cultural impact as well. They may not get a movie made of their exploits, but they'll at least have a new set of stories to tell.
To learn more about the team, and to contribute if you so desire, visit the officially sanctioned fundraising website at CrowdTilt.
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The Christian Science Monitor
Weekly Digital Edition
Jamaican bobsled pilot Winston Watts and the nation's Olympic Committee said Monday they are accepting an invitation to compete in next month's Sochi Olympics.
It's the first time the Jamaican bobsled team will compete in the games since 2002. The invitation comes after Watts accumulated enough points in lower-tier races in North America to qualify.
"Oh, man, it's really overwhelming," Watts said in a telephone interview Monday. "I'm really happy. I have the whole entire world behind us. The Jamaica bobsled team is very popular, but when I see and hear that the whole entire world, even the Middle East — I mean, really, there's a place in the Middle East that calls me and I don't even know its name — we have fans from so far away. For a little tiny island, it's so emotional."
Watts said in an earlier interview Saturday with The Associated Press that the team had qualified, but was unsure about its ability to participate because of funding. He estimated he needed up to $80,000 to make the Olympic trip.
Much of that concern went away Monday, when Jamaican Olympic officials said they and the Sochi Organizing Committee would cover all travel costs for the team. Watts said he is still doing additional fundraising for equipment, such as different kinds of runners for the sled. Teams typically have several different sets of runners to choose from, depending on ice conditions.
"The money's not all covered yet," Watts said. "We're still hoping for help. But I am very excited that we're officially qualified."
It's been 12 years since Jamaica has had a sled in the Olympics, with Watts finishing 28th at the Salt Lake City Games with Lascelles Brown — now a key part of Canada's national team. Brown won a medal with the Canadians at the 2010 Vancouver Games, one where the Jamaicans were hoping to compete but were again thwarted by funding issues.
Watts himself spent nearly a decade in retirement, no longer able to self-fund much of the team's operations. But the chance to race in Sochi brought him back.
"Once again, the pride of the country is with our athletes who continue to blaze the trail," the Jamaican Olympic Committee said in a statement.
Officially, five people were nominated to the team Monday: Watts, brakeman Marvin Dixon, backup Wayne Blackwood, coach Thomas Samuel and Chris Stokes, who will serve as the mission chief. Stokes was part of the groundbreaking team that represented Jamaica in bobsled at the 1988 Calgary Games. He returned to the Olympics in 1992, 1994 and 1998.
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