Winter Olympics 2022: Jamaican bobsled team embraces 'Cool Runnings,' but has sights set on more than movie references

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It's been 34 years since the four-man Jamaican bobsled team made its Olympic debut, enamoring the world with its underdog story and inspiring the beloved childhood staple "Cool Runnings."

The team achieved some success in the years that followed -- including a surprise 14th-place finish during the 1994 Games -- but has been unable to qualify a four-man team since 1998.

That is, until this year, and on Saturday in Beijing, a new foursome from Jamaica will compete and potentially win over a whole new generation of fans.

Piloted by Shanwayne Stephens, with Rolando Reid, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe as the push athletes, the team has embraced the attention it has already received and is grateful for the worldwide support.

"I think it's everybody's dream to represent their country and we're here doing it, living it and breathing it," Stephens said earlier this week after competing in the two-man event. "We just hope that we've done everybody proud. I mean, there's a lot of people supporting us. There's Jamaican, non-Jamaican, everybody that loves 'Cool Runnings' is supporting us. Just represent Jamaica and enjoy it while we're here. Not everybody gets this opportunity, so we just want to enjoy it."

And while the movie took a number of creative liberties, the team still seems to love it as much as millennials do. Wekpe even carries a plastic egg with him, and features it prominently in his Instagram profile picture, in an ode to the movie's fictional brakeman Sanka Coffie. Or, you know, the "best pushcart driver in all of Jamaica."

But, of course, it's not just fun and movie references for the team. Jamaica also qualified in the two-man event, as well as a sled in the women's monobob, and the country believes the best is yet to come.

"Our big plan for 2026 is to qualify for four events, two teams per event, and to have someone on the podium in 2030," Chris Stokes, who was a member of the 1988 team and is now the president of the Jamaican bobsled federation, said in an interview with The Daily Mirror.

The better the result the team earns this weekend, the closer the country gets to the ultimate goal.

So who are the four men on the squad? Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, it's meet the members of the Jamaican bobsled team time.

Shanwayne Stephens

Stephens, 31, already competed this week in the two-man event with Nimroy Turgott. They finished in 30th place out of 30, but he still called his Olympic debut "a moment to remember."

Stephens was born in Jamaica but moved to England as a child. Today, he's a member of the United Kingdom Royal Air Force and got involved in the sport through the military. He began as a brakeman before transitioning to the pilot position.

As it did for many athletes around the world, the pandemic made training a challenge for Stephens. However, his creativity during the lockdown went viral as he and Turgott pushed around his fiancee's Mini Cooper to stay competition ready. He even had the chance to tell Queen Elizabeth -- yes, Her Royal Majesty herself -- about it on a video call (which also found its way around the internet).

"Well, I suppose that's one way to train," she said laughing.

Stephens also has the cutest fan rooting him on from afar -- his toddler daughter Maia, who was fully decked out for his two-man runs.

Rolando Reid

As a child, Reid, now 29, always dreamed of competing in the Olympics. But bobsled wasn't exactly what he had in mind. Reid was a track star and eventually competed for Morgan State University, even winning a MEAC championship in 2015 as part of a relay team.

But he just wasn't quite at the level needed to make the uber-competitive Jamaican track team. He moved back to the island after graduating from college and started working as a high school economics teacher. According to WUSA9, about three years after returning home, Reid's brother called him saying he was interested in attending an open tryout for the Jamaican bobsled team.

Reid offered to help him prepare but hadn't considered doing it himself.

"I said, 'Alright, I'll coach you for the tryouts, get you ready, get you prepared,'" Reid told WUSA9. "On the day of the tryouts, they said 'Hey, look, take part, and see what happens.' So, I took part, and fortunately, I was the No. 1 selected candidate."

He quit his teaching job and the rest, as they say, is history. Now he's excited to have a chance to represent his country, as well as Morgan State and all historically Black colleges and universities.

Ashley Watson

Born and raised in England, Watson was a talented sprinter and soccer player growing up and initially got involved with bobsled through Great Britain's program. But it was the opportunity to represent his father's home country, Jamaica, that ultimately got him to get serious pursuing the sport and switch to the Jamaican federation.

"Representing Jamaica is a massive honor," he told the Peterborough Telegraph. "This journey is for my family's heritage and my late grandmother and grandfather who have both passed within the last decade. I'm hoping I can inspire people from Jamaica and the surrounding islands as well as British-born Jamaicans to show anything is possible with hard work."

Watson, 28, recently completed his master's degree in physiotherapy at Sheffield Hallam University in England and has balanced his studies with his training -- including flying home between races in December to finish his academic requirements for the degree -- as well as running his own sports therapy business.

But even with so much going on, making the Jamaican Olympic team was his primary goal. After being selected in January, he took to social media to share what it meant.

"A childhood dream has come a reality," Watson wrote on Instagram. "I gave up on this dream a few years back although I knew the elite athlete in me hasn't died yet and had unfinished business. Blood, sweat and tears went into this and it has paid off! Best day of my sporting career!"

Matthew Wekpe

While many of his bobsled peers had late starts in the sport, Wekpe didn't even get into a bobsled until 2020. That is not a typo.

In fact, Wekpe, 32, was already representing Jamaica as a member of the national rugby team and wasn't looking to switch sports. However, during the pandemic, the Jamaican federation was desperately seeking athletes based in England who could train with Stephens as his usual brakeman was in Jamaica and unable to travel due to restrictions.

"I was like, 'Hey, why not? I'll give it a go'," Wekpe told World Rugby. "We had a little trial where a few of us tried out and after that I was in the team and three or four weeks later, I'm literally in a World Cup race. You know, I'd never seen a bobsleigh before!"

He's been with the team since.

As evidenced by his plastic egg, Wekpe was quick to appreciate the "Cool Runnings" connection, but said his goal was to make even more history for his country.

"We wanted a lasting legacy to say that we're not just 'Cool Runnings', you know, we're not just that movie," he said in the same interview. "We're a team that is there to compete and we're there to be serious."