Winter Olympics 2014: Jamaican bobsleigh team earn one love from Sochi but last place beckons

  • @RobinScottEllio

We have been here before, the Winter Olympics, Jamaican bobsleighers, everybody’s favourite underdogs. At the opening ceremony only the hosts received a louder cheer than Jamaica, Marvin Dixon flying the flag, Winston Watts strolling behind – in the same clothes in which they had arrived in Sochi.

That was because their luggage had gone walkabout, another twist in a tale that has more of them than make up the course halfway up a mountain above the town of Krasnaya Polyana, an improbable setting for an improbable story.

This is chapter six of the Jamaican bobsleigh story. It is a thicker volume than many presume, with five successive qualifications for the Games from their 1988 debut, the story that inspired that film. This one bears comparison with any of its forerunners for drama and good old triumph against the odds. They are two of the most high profile athletes in the Games, certainly in the Mountain Village. On Sunday Katie Summerhayes, one of Fridge Kids, and some of her British team-mates had breakfast with them.

“Jamaicans are the most loving, caring guys,” said Watts. “We sometimes flirt a lot. We appreciate everyone in this world. Does not matter who you are, we still going to love you.”

Then again they were not here to flirt. Watts and Dixon want to be seen as proper sportsmen. “We are as serious as athletes as the Swiss, Germans and Canadians,” insisted the 46-year-old Watts. “We are not a bunch of jokers.”

Their Games though have not gone well. On Sunday night they finished 30th and last, 4.41sec adrift of the leaders over the first two runs. Britain’s two-man of Lamin Deen and John Baines finished 23rdand are on course to win a bet with the Jamaicans over who had the better start time. There will be one more run on Monday night as only the top 20 return for the fourth and final one.

But for Watts and Dixon it was about getting here, battling to qualify and to scrape together enough money to finance the trip. A fundraising campaign set the ball rolling and once the word was out that the Jamaicans were back their Olympic Committee jumped back on the bobsleigh bandwagon to pay their travel costs.

This is Watts’ fourth Olympics, a dozen years after his last. After Jamaica failed to qualify for Turin he hung up his sled and moved to the US to become an oilworker in Wyoming. The problem was the temptation down the road, an hour’s drive away: the track in which he had competed in the 2002 Games. Two years ago he lost his job and yielded to temptation.

Injuries scuppered hopes of qualifying a four-man and left him and Dixon, his brakeman and a former sprinter from Kingston, to set off on a long and bumpy road to Sochi. They competed in the North American Cup, managing four top-10 finishes, and then clinched an Olympic place in St Moritz last month.

Last night, with Usain Bolt watching on TV, was a different level. They were as loved as ever, the obligatory Bob Marley flag was waved enthusiastically by a Russian fan, and only the home bobs were given a louder cheer. But they struggled to keep up. After the first run they were 2.17sec adrift. Before the second, a ragged run that saw them nearly tip over, Watts’ visor came loose. But they carried on regardless, just as they always have.

“I pulled it down and it just broke,” he said. “I thought ‘I’m not going to stop. I’ll show the world I still have heart.’ We just wanted to come here and show the world we are still alive.”