Jamaican Bobsled Team Qualifies for 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2014

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Updates from Monday, Jan. 20

The Associated Press (via ESPN) talked to bobsled pilot Winston Watts about the funding needed to send his team to the Sochi games:

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."

Alex Hern of The Guardian is also reporting that supporters of the team have raised $25,000 in the online currency Dogecoin to help get the group to the games.

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You know, somebody could make a movie about this someday.

Jamaica's two-man bobsled team of Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon qualified for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. It's the first time a Jamaican bobsled team has qualified for the Winter Olympics since 2002.

The Jamaican Olympic Committee tweeted the celebratory news on Saturday:

An entire generation is familiar with the Jamaican bobsled team after Cool Runnings. The Disney movie told the somewhat fictionalized story of how the Caribbean country defied the odds to qualify in the four-man bobsled for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.

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Watts has even taken to calling himself and Dixon, "Cool Runnings, the Second Generation,” per The Telegraph's Ian Chadband.

Qualifying for the 2014 Olympics was the easy part for Dixon and Watts. Heading into St. Moritz, they only needed to avoid disaster in order to earn their spot in Russia.

The hard part will be actually getting there.

Watts told Chadband the financial hardship the team is under at the moment:

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. It all depends. Our families need to be taken care of first. If there’s no funding, who knows?

But, I’m one of life’s optimists. I put my heart on the line for this. Any British companies out there interested in sponsorin’ us? Hopefully, the Jamaican Olympic Association will step in and support us now we’ve qualified.

As Evan Hilbert of CBSSports.com noted, the original plan was for Jamaica to have a regular four-man team, but that idea was scrapped after the funding problems:

Watts, who came out of retirement to give the Olympics another shot (he competed previously in '94, '98, and '02), was forced to cut his four-man team in half due to budgetary restrictions.

He has, for the past two years, financed his teammates to fly from Jamaica to the United States to train. Still, without significant support, he and Dixon will not be able to compete.

ESPN's Darren Rovell adds more detail to the team's financial issues:

Not making this up: Jamaican Bobsled team taking PayPal donations to be able to pay to go to Sochi

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 19, 2014

Jamaican Bobsled team looking to raise $80K in the next couple weeks in order to pay for a trip to Sochi

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 19, 2014

Now that the Jamaicans have officially qualified, financial benefactors may come out of the woodwork. Watts' story is gaining a lot of traction, thus bringing much more attention to his plight. Perhaps the Jamaican Olympic Association will pony up some dough, too.

Maybe Watts and Dixon could consider Kickstarter. It helped fund the Veronica Mars movie; why can't it help the Jamaican bobsled team? Worst-case scenario, the bobsledders create a nice ditty to perform on the streets. A kissing booth seemed to work well, too.

This is the kind of story that tugs at the heartstrings, and should the Jamaicans make it to Russia, they'll be one of, if not the most compelling team at the Olympics. Even putting aside the idea of the Cool Runnings redux, this is a 46-year-old athlete—Watts—trying to make that one last run at Olympic glory.

Between now and Sochi, somebody has to step up make Watts' dream a reality.

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