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Jamaican bobsled team spends time training at Whistler Sliding Centre

The Jamaican bobsled team looks to qualify for the Olympic Games for the eighth time in program’s history
Jamaican bobsled
The Jamaican men’s bobsled team including (left to right) Ashley Watson, Nimroy Turgott, Shanwayne Stephens, Rolando Reid and Matthew Wekpe pose in front of their sled at the Legends Hotel in Whistler ahead of their races on Saturday, Nov. 13.

Making their way across North America to train and get ready for the Olympic qualifications, the Jamaican bobsled team made a stop in Whistler last week to put in some work at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The team that includes two women-piloted sleds driven by Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, Audra Segree, Carrie Russell and Shadae Green and a two-man and four-man male team, piloted by Shanwayne Stephens and filled out by Rolando Reid, Nimroy Turgott, Matthew Wekpe and Ashley Watson, are looking to qualify for the Winter Olympics for the eighth time since the country made its debut at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary.

That 1988 team, which featured current president of the Jamaican Bobsled and Skeleton Federation President Chris Stokes, was the inspiration behind the 1993 movie Cool Runnings and started a movement within Jamaica that persists to this day.

“I think because those guys that did it before us, they set the legacy for us. And we, coming up watching the movie, just wanted to continue that legacy and as a group we know that we can match what they did or even do better,” said brakeman Turgott, who started out as a track and field athlete before moving over to bobsled, just like the characters in the movie.

“I think for myself, I’m coming from track and field. In 2017 I was running in the national trials and the president of the bobsled federation saw me, contacted my track and field coach, asked if I was interested and I said, ‘why not?’ and here I am.”

Being able to carry on the tradition that was started in 1988 while representing your country is something the entire team holds dear to their heart, according to Reid, who was living in Florida before getting a call from his brother to come home and try out for the team in 2019.

“It feels good being ambassadors for a country. Not everyone can get to represent a country, so we are appreciative and we’re just putting our all in every day,” he said while making adjustments to their sled in the parking garage of the Legends Hotel in Whistler before the day’s races last Saturday.

“As you can see we are always working and it’s a demanding sport, but we chose it and we are just going to stick with it throughout the season and hopefully we can make it.”

Despite some ups and downs in training that Stephens said comes with the sport, the team has been happy with their results so far and have enjoyed their time at the Whistler Sliding Centre, which they describe as the fastest track in the world.

Moving forward, the team is headed to Park City, Utah followed by Lake Placid, N.Y. to continue their training and trial races, all with one goal in mind: qualifying and medalling at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

“Well, the ultimate goal for us is obviously qualifying for the Games but after that, it’s got to be medalling at the Games. It’s everybody’s dream, it’s what we’re here to do. So why not aim high?” said Stephens.

However, if a podium finish doesn’t happen for the team this year, the best consolation prize would be to improve on the previous bests put up by the Jamaican team, which includes a 14th-place finish in the four-man category and a 27th-place finish in the two-man category, as that would show progress for a team that has already seen substantial growth over the last couple decades, according to Stephens.

“In terms of the program in Jamaica, we go through a lot of transitions with obviously different athletes throughout the years, but for us it’s always been difficult because as a small nation we are not government funded and a lot of our sliding comes from charitable donations. So depending on how much charitable donations we get throughout the year, it determines how much sliding we do,” said Stephens.

“In the recent years, it’s starting to pick up as we are getting better and the results are coming in and obviously we are starting to bring in more and more sponsors.”

The Whistler Sliding Centre was also host to the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s bobsled North American Cup  and skeleton Intercontinental Cup. For more on the events at the Whistler Sliding Centre, go to piquenewsmagazine.com.