Jamaica (re)starts women’s bobsled team
A Jamaican women’s bobsled team competed in an international race for what’s believed to be the first time in more than a decade on Thursday.
Driver KayMarie Jones and brakewoman Salcia Slack finished last out of 13 sleds that took two runs in a North American Cup event in Park City, Utah. They were 9.9 seconds behind the winner.
The “Cool Runnings” island nation diversified its bobsled program after sending a two-man team to the Sochi Olympics, a dozen years after its last Olympic men’s bobsled appearance and 26 years after its debut in Calgary.
Women’s bobsledders were recruited this summer by new head coach and technical director Todd Hays, a two-time U.S. Olympian. Hays hopes to field the first Jamaican Olympic women’s bobsled team at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“There’s no better challenge in the sport of bobsled than Jamaica with the athleticism that’s on the island,” said Hays, who led U.S. women’s bobsled from 2011 through the Sochi Olympics. “I hope I can round up enough talent to make a run at it.”
Two Jamaican women’s drivers took training runs in Park City last week, Jones and NaTalia Stokes. Stokes is the daughter of original Jamaican Olympic bobsled team member Chris Stokes. Chris Stokes was depicted by Doug E. Doug in the Disney film “Cool Runnings.”
NaTalia Stokes, who picked up bobsled last winter, before Hays was hired, opted not to race in Park City on Thursday to focus on school, Hays said.
Chris Stokes forecasted his daughter’s bobsled career in 2002, when NaTalia was 6 years old.
“Talia likes to wear my helmet,” he said, according to a Los Angeles Times story from 12 years ago. “Now that there’s women’s bobsled [debuting in the Olympics in 2002], I’d like to get a Jamaican women’s team together, too. Maybe we can have two generations of Stokes bobsledders.”
Jones, Slack and Stokes’ push athlete, Audra Segree, all have track and field backgrounds. Slack finished fifth in the heptathlon at the Commonwealth Games in July, when she was first contacted by Hays via Facebook.
Jones, 24, said she had never seen a bobsled, outside of in pictures or on video, until two weeks ago. But she was inspired by watching “Cool Runnings” as a girl.
“Ever since the movie I’ve wanted to drive,” Jones said. “It’s not too hard.”
No Jamaican women have competed in international bobsled since at least 2004, according to the International Bobsled Federation (FIBT).
The last Jamaican women’s bobsled team may have been the one that dissolved shortly before the 2002 Olympics.
Driver Porscha Morgan crashed in the first World Cup race of the 2001-02 season in Winterberg, Germany, and due to injury and lack of money, never competed again.
Morgan, reached by phone at her Norway home this week, said Jamaican officials were so sure she was going to make it to the 2002 Olympics that she had already been selected as the Opening Ceremony flag bearer, before her Winterberg crash.
That said, Morgan ranked No. 26 in the World Cup season standings in the year before the Olympics. The 2002 Olympic field included 15 bobsleds.
Morgan first learned of the Jamaican bobsled re-emergence last season when she watched the Sochi Olympic two-man bobsled on her Norway TV. Jamaica finished 29th out of 30. The Jamaican driver at the Sochi Olympics, 46-year-old Winston Watts, said he doesn’t expect to compete this season but hasn’t retired.
Hays is coaching younger Jamaican men, though.
Morgan, who visits Jamaica once a year, said she remembered seeing NaTalia Stokes when Stokes was a baby.
“I thought that they had given up on a women’s bobsled team,” Morgan said when informed of the new Jamaican team. “I’m extremely proud.”
Morgan’s biggest victories were World Push Championship titles in 2000 (televised by Eurosport) and 2001.
She moved to Norway for bobsled training more than a decade ago, married and has lived there ever since.