The Jamaican team is one good weekend away from qualifying a two-man sled for the Sochi Olympics, in what would be the island nation's first appearance since the 2002 games. They just might not have the money.
As brought to our attention by CBS, the Telegraph had a great piece this week on pilot Winston Watts. Ever the optimist, Watts believes the Jamaican team is the driver's seat for a Sochi appearance. (It's not so clear what their chances actually are. The simple version is this: The top three countries receive three sleds apiece, the next six each receive two, and a total of 30 sleds make the Olympics. The Jamaicans currently sit 33rd, which given the complexities of qualification, should be good enough.)
[Update: They qualified.]
Even if they make it, they might not have the cash to attend the games. They already ran short of cash and won't be able to compete at this weekend's meet in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It was to be their insurance policy for qualification, but now Watts will be sitting at home, hoping not too many teams pass him.
They receive almost nothing from the Jamaican Olympic Association, and rely on sponsorships and private donations to keep the team alive. A plan for a four-man sled was scrapped for lack of funds, and at times, Watts has even paid out of his own pocket so his team could fly to the U.S. to train.
"In truth, we still don't really know at the moment if we'd even have enough funds or sponsorship to fly to Sochi itself for the Games itself," Watts shrugs. "It all depends. Our families need to be taken care of first. If there's no funding, who knows?"
Yes, we've all seen Cool Runnings, the highly fictionalized version of the 1988 Jamaican team. Watts has seen it too—he considers himself "the second generation"—but a movie you enjoyed as a kid is no reason to root for the Jamaicans. How about just rooting for Watts, one of the sport's most unique and genuine characters?
Born in a rough area of Kingston, Watts joined the army as a teen. In those days, the military was where the country's bobsleigh program was nurtured, and his soccer and track and field experience made him an ideal pilot. He competed in three Olympics, from 1994 through 2002, but then the nation's interest in the novelty of having a bobsleigh team dried up—and so did the funding.
After missing out on the 2006 games, Watts left the sport. He moved to the United States, eventually landing in Evanston, Wyoming, with a girlfriend, a son, U.S. citizenship, and a job as a wireline operator at an oil field. An hour away from the U.S. bobsleigh training facility, Watts would watch teams practice—and decided that he could still do it. So he came out of retirement, despite the fact that at age 46 he would be the second-oldest bobsleigh pilot to ever compete at the Olympics.
"Man, you should see me! Age is just a number. You'd never believe I was a man of 46. You'd say maybe 30, 35. I'm big, dark and handsome, like a 6ft, 235lb running back."
Half the work of resurrecting the team was finding the cash. Watts has tirelessly raised money, much of it coming from local businesses in Evanston, which has been the adopted home of Jamaican bobsleigh for more than a decade. He's hoping that officially qualifying for the Sochi games will inspire one big sponsor to come forward.
Last summer, Watts told NBC just how badly he wants this.
"I came here out of retirement and decided, look, I'm very hungry. A hungry man is an angry man. And that is me. I am very angry because I want it."
If you'd like, you can donate through the Paypal link on the team's website.