Jamaican bobsleigh team caught in Covid-19 travel chaos

UK-based athletes looking to keep up the ‘Cool Runnings’ legacy

A lack of snow has usually been the biggest challenge to face the Jamaican bobsleigh team but this year Covid-19 has thrown up some unexpected obstacles.

The athletes were stranded this week, along with thousands of others in France because of emergency border closures as they attempted to return from the World Cup in Austria.

Team-mates Shanwayne Stephens and Matt Wilson were trapped for hours in the travel chaos as they travelled with their prized sleigh back to their UK base in the city of Peterborough.On Tuesday, the pair finally arrived home safely, after France allowed passengers to enter the UK.

But with Peterborough now in England’s toughest Tier-4 lockdown whereby travel is

banned, the team’s hopes of competing in the Europa Cup in Austria next month are in jeopardy.

The athletes have recently been competing only in two-man bobsleigh events because their two team-mates are stranded in Jamaica under international travel restrictions.

“We left Innsbruck on Monday at 5am and it took us 12 hours to drive to Calais,” said Lance Corporal Stephens, the bobsleigh pilot.

“We were stuck for four hours trying to get back to the UK.

“Our athletes in Jamaica were not able to come over to due to the travel restrictions but we are hoping they can come across soon so we can do some four-man training and compete in the Europa Cup in Innsbruck in January.”

The team was inspired by the Jamaican men's bobsleigh team competing in 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, members of which were immortalised in the 1993 film Cool Runnings.

Like their predecessors, nothing fazes them, not even the new lockdown measures and with the pandemic raging across the globe, the team’s newest members had to invent innovative ways to train.

Courtesy Jamaican Bobsleigh Team

This even extended to them pushing a Mini Cooper car through the streets as they struggled to train without snow.

“During the last lockdown everything was shut, we didn’t have many options and as part of our training we needed to push a heavy sleigh,” Lance Corporal Stephens, 29, said.

“So we used a Mini Cooper instead and took to pushing it down the street for our distance training. We made weights out of cement and paint buckets. We just had to be creative to keep on top of the game.

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start it. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different and they’re very excited.

“The pandemic is definitely making things more difficult but everybody has been in the same boat, it’s not just us.

Courtesy Jamaican Bobsleigh Team

“Now we’re home, we cannot leave the house in Tier 4 so I’m not really sure how our training is going to work going forward, but I will come up with something.”

Their initiative even gained Royal approval, after Queen Elizabeth called to wish them well after news of their unusual training techniques reached Buckingham Palace.

“I even had a call from the Queen and had a little giggle with her when I told her I was pushing a Mini,” he said.

“It was awesome, she’s a really lovely lady, it felt like I was speaking to my grandma.”

Last weekend’s competition was the first time in 14 years Jamaica’s male team had qualified for the Bobsleigh World Cup.

“It was definitely a proud moment when we turned up at the track and saw our flag lined up with all the other nations, it made me feel really proud to be able to represent Jamaica and bring back Jamaican bobsleigh,” Lance Corporal Stephens said.

“Everyone knows the Jamaican bobsleigh team is one of the most famous teams and our aim is to come back and be competitive and qualify for the 2022 Olympics. I’m really proud to be in a position to be able to give Jamaica that opportunity again.

“We are really proud to be connected to the guys from 1988. What they achieved was something great, they literally turned up, had never seen the sport before and actually went out and gave it their best shot. All we are trying to do is carry on that legacy and improve on what the guys achieved.”

The team now aims to qualify for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 and outperform the 1988 team, which did not finish the four-man bob competition after crashing out.

While the woman’s team competed for the first time in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the men’s team failed to qualify.

Jamaica has not competed in the men’s four-man Olympic event since Nagano in 1998.