Winter Olympics History: Story of the Real 1988 Jamaican Bobsled Team

January 02, 2022

Jamaica Bobsled Team

1988 marked the first time that the great nation of Jamaica ever competed in the Winter Olympic Games. That year, the country put a team in the two-man and four-man bobsledding events, with team members including men from the Jamaica Defense Force. The Olympics were held in Calgary, Canada in, ‘88, Jamaica’s bobsled team became the subject of a hit comedy a few years after in 1993. 

In this post, at Famous IRL, we’ll be commemorating the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team—and giving you a little history lesson.

Here’s everything you need to know about the bobsled team and why they’re significant in Winter Olympics history.

The Team 

Jamaica recruited their team members for the ‘88 Olympics by pulling from the JDF (Jamaica Defense Force). The JDF is Jamaica’s military, and it consists of their national infantry, Reserve Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Engineering forces. 

The men who were recruited for the two-man bobsledding event were Dudley Stokes and Michael White. For the four-man bobsledding event, White and Stokes competed alongside Dudley’s brother Chris and Devon Harris.

Dudley Stokes went on to compete in the 1992, 1994, and 1998 Winter Olympics, and he later became a bobsledding coach. Born on June 22, 1962, Dudley is now 59 years old.

Michael White, the second member of the two-man team, later competed in the ‘92 Winter Olympics alongside Stokes and others. He was born on November 5, 1964, which makes him 57 years old this year (Happy birthday!).

Dudley’s brother, Chris Stokes, was born on November 2, 1963, making him 58 years old. In addition to bobsledding, Chris is known for his prowess as a track and field athlete. He competed in the Winter Olympics in 1988, 1992, 1994, and 1998, and he tried out for the ‘88 Summer Olympics as well. Chris is a graduate of Washington State University, the University of Idaho, and Georgetown University.

Devon Harris, the fourth competitor from Jamaica, went on to compete in the 1992 and 1998 Winter Olympics. He’s since written a children’s book, founded a non-profit, and received an award from the World Olympians Association. 

How Long Has Jamaica Been Competing in the Olympics? 

Jamaica’s first time competing in the Olympics was in 1948 at the Summer Games in London. The Jamaica Olympic Association was founded in 1936, but the country wasn’t able to compete for over a decade afterward because of World War II.

During the Second World War, the Olympics weren’t held due to constant conflict and tensions between many of the countries that would otherwise be competing. After all, it’s pretty tough to focus on who’s winning the 500-yard dash when there’s a war going on.

When Jamaica first started competing in the Summer Olympics, it was immediately clear that the country had something special. They’ve since joined forces with the British West Indies, who became part of their team for the 1960 Summer Olympics. They’ve had major victories at nearly every Olympic Games they’ve been in.

What Is the Bobsleigh Competition? 

Bobsleigh is an intense winter sport with origins that trace back as far as the late 19th century. Bobsledding became part of the Winter Olympic Games in 1924, and it’s since become one of the most-watched sports in the competition. 

Here is your bobsled history lesson: Bobsleds were first built in Switzerland, and their designs were loosely based on toboggans. The sleds have since been adapted for speed and functionality, and they’re now used internationally in competitive sports.

The first bobsleigh teams competed in 1884 at Cresta Run, a natural ice track located in Switzerland. It wasn’t until the Winter Olympics of 1924 that a four-team bobsled competition took place on the Olympic level.

A year before, in 1923, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation had been founded, and they became the organization that oversees the majority of bobsled teams in the world. 

How Do Bobsled Tracks Work? 

In the Olympics, bobsled tracks are made from sturdy concrete covered with a thick layer of ice. These tracks are carefully regulated for safety, but they still have enough twists, turns, and drops to make anyone queasy. On an Olympic-level track, bobsleds can reach up to 75 miles per hour, about as fast as you’d travel in a 45-MPH zone when you’re late for work.

The two-man bobsleigh event in the Winter Olympic Games, the one that Dudley Stokes and Michael White competed in, wasn’t introduced into the games until 1928. That year, the United States took home the gold and silver medals with their two teams, and Germany scored bronze. 

The Olympics were held at St. Moritz, Grisons, Switzerland that year, and 25 nations competed. Jamaica, however, was nowhere to be found… they wouldn’t participate in the Winter Olympics until 1988.

The 1988 Bobsleigh Competition 

1988 was the first year that Jamaica participated in the Winter Olympic Games, sending a team of four men to compete. However, the nation failed to take home any medals that year. 

The soon-to-be-dissolved Soviet Union won gold in the two-man, and Switzerland took home the gold in the four-man. Silver in both events went to East Germany, as did bronze in the two-man. The Soviet Union earned bronze in the four-man competition. 

The Jamaican Team’s Humble Beginnings 

The Real 1988 Jamaica Bobsled Team

For their Winter Olympic debut, the Jamaican bobsledding team was coached by Howard Silver, an American who had competed in bobsledding events in 1972 and 1980. When the team arrived at the Olympics, they were seen as underdogs due to the fact that they came from a country with such tropical weather.

Some people scoffed – what were the Jamaicans doing in a bobsled? They’ve never even seen ice before. However, Devon, Dudley, Michael, and Chris were determined to prove everyone wrong. It was going to be snow good.

The Jamaican bobsledding team didn’t have much to show in terms of training or equipment. In fact, the team had to get help from other countries in order to obtain the gear they needed to enter the competition. Their underdog status earned them plenty of fans at the ‘88 games, and their performance in the four-man event is now the stuff of legends. 

How It Ended 

Sadly, as you might know, if you’ve seen a certain film, the Jamaican bobsledding team didn’t do so well in ‘88. The four men ended up in a crash during the competition, leaving them essentially disqualified. Fortunately, no one got hurt in the accident. In the two-man event, Dudley and Michael finished in 30th place out of the 41 total teams that competed. 

While their first run in the Winter Olympics may not have gone as expected, the Jamaican bobsledding team didn’t give up. Several members of the original team returned in 1992 when the games took place in Albertville, France. That year, they finished in 25th, five places higher than four years prior.

In 1994, the Jamaican team returned to the Winter Olympics for the competition in Lillehammer, Norway. That year was a milestone for the team; they beat the likes of the United States, France, Australia, and even Russia. However, it wasn’t until 2000 that the team won their first Gold Medal. 

The 2014 Games and Dogecoin 

Ever heard of Dogecoin? It's a meme-inspired cryptocurrency inspired by the likeness of a famous Shiba Inu named Doge.Even if you know Dogecoin well, you might not know about its impact on the 2014 Jamaican bobsledding team at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

That year, Jamaica had qualified to compete, but they didn’t have enough funds to participate. Seeing their plight, fans of Dogecoin set out to raise the money that the Jamaican team needed to get into the competition.

As a result, a crowdfunding campaign was set up that ended up earning even more money than the Jamaican team needed: over 120,000 dollars in total. That year, Marvin Dixon and Winston Watts competed in the two-man event, placing 27th.

The Jamaican Women’s Team 

In 2000, Jamaica introduced their first all-women bobsledding team, comprising Porscha Morgan and Wynsome Cole. The two women took home multiple medals in their first two years of competing, and they went on to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics as well.

That year, the team consisted of KayMarie Jones and Salcia Slack. Another member of the all-women team was Natalia Stokes, who is Chris and Dudley Stokes’ niece. Sounds like bobsledding runs in the blood!

Show Some Love for the Team 

Jamaica Bobsled Team T-Shirt

If you’re a die-hard fan of the Jamaican bobsledding team, we’ve got exactly what you need to show your devotion. Wear your favorite bobsled t-shirt 

You know what to do: It’s bobsled time!

 

Sources:

Here's The Real Story Of The 'Cool Runnings' Bobsled Team That The Movie Got Wrong | Business Insider

Doge | Know Your Meme

Bobsleigh History | IBSF


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