SOCHI, Russia — You saw the movie “Cool Runnings” years ago. But the story of the Jamaican bobsled isn't finished, and along the way, the tale took a hard right turn to a place nobody expected: The Rocky Mountain West.
What do Evanston, a town of 12,500 in the southwest corner of Wyoming, and the sunny beaches of Jamaica have in common?
Well, other than Winston Watts, the 46-year-old driver of the two-man Jamaican team that finished 28th of 29 sleds in the Winter Olympics, absolutely nothing.
“It was a big difference, moving from Jamaica to live in Evanston, Wyoming, and to leave so much behind, from the sunshine and the beach,” Watts said Tuesday. “It is below zero, at a severe freezing point, during the winter in Wyoming. I asked myself a lot of times: 'What am I doing here?' But I think I am a chosen one, and I was in Evanston for a reason: A better opportunity for my bobsled career.”
Watts came out of retirement and the oil fields of Wyoming to race one more time at the Sochi Olympics. The Jamaican bobsledders were the cuddly story of the Games in 1988. “Looking back at it, it was absolutely insane, and maybe even irresponsible,” said Chris Stokes, a key member of the '88 team. “But we did it, and that's the stuff of legends.”
The only ice in Jamaica remains chilling down the Red Stripe in a cooler, and funding for a sport in which the sled alone costs in excess of $100,000 is as challenging as ever for a small country. But this team is no longer a gimmick, mon. The movie inspired a new generation of Jamaican sledders. And their goal is not merely to participate in the Winter Games, but to someday win Olympic gold.
“I expect an Olympic medal within the next four to eight years,” said Stokes, a firm believer the home nation of track star Usain Bolt can also produce champions in winter sports.
“You don't run a sled on ice at 120 kilometers an hour for fun or as a joke.”
At the urging of Wyoming lawyer Paul Skog, who sold Watts on the idea of living along a lonely but beautiful strip of Interstate 80 because it was convenient to sledding tracks in the United States and Canada, the unofficial Jamaica bobsledding world headquarters for more than a decade has been Evanston, whose city motto is “Fresh Air, Freedom and Fun.”
After competing at four Winter Olympics, from Norway to Japan to the United States and now Russia, Watts said, “I'm old as dirt.”
He, however, dreams of being the Jamaican driver of the team's bobsled at the world championships in 2015.
All Watts wants? One more run. Cool.