Devon Harris is ecstatic that Jamaica is back in the Winter Olympics for a fifth time after a 12-year absence. He is also using his position as a motivational speaker affiliated with a few large corporations, including Visa USA, to promote the team that qualified for next month’s Sochi Games.
Since driver Winston Watts and brakeman Marvin Dixon were awarded a spot to compete in the two-man bob, Harris – who represented Jamaica in bobsledding at three Olympics – has been busy doing the media rounds.
With 30 teams allowed to participate in the two-man sled in Russia, Jamaica was on the outside looking in after Watts finished the qualification period with a 39th place ranking. Nine nations, which had already qualified their maximum number of sleds, were however unable to take up the final Olympic birth, thus opening the door for Jamaica to make its fourth quadrennial Winter Games appearance.
Just days after qualifying, the team raised nearly $180,000 to cover myriad costs, including equipment and travelling.
Harris, who will be in Sochi as a Visa USA ambassador, says the public’s response didn’t surprise him.
“This is a group of guys who have displayed immense courage to fulfil their dreams,” he told Share shortly after an interview with Al Jazeera America. “Regardless of the obstacles, they found a way to succeed and keep pushing forward. That resonates with people all over the world and inspires them to want to support that kind of effort.”
This will be Watts’ fourth Olympics while Dixon, who was just four years old when Jamaica entered the Games for the first time, is making his first Winter Games debut.
A former Jamaica Defence Force soldier, Watts captained the 2002 team and with Lascelles Brown, who now represents Canada, set a track and Olympic record for the fastest push-start time of 4.78 secs. that was broken two years ago.
Watts moved to the United States nearly a decade ago and worked in the oilfields as a wireline operator before losing his job two years ago. That was when he decided to sled full-time with the aim of heading back to the Olympics.
A graduate of Dunoon Technical High School, Dixon comes from Rockfort – a challenging east Kingston neighbourhood – and was a promising middle distance runner prior to taking up the sport seven years ago.
Dixon will be Jamaica’s flag bearer at the opening and closing ceremonies in Sochi.
“Coming from humble beginnings, Marvin has lifted himself to become one of the top brakemen in the world,” Harris said. “His journey has been remarkable when you think about where he came from and the hurdles he faced along the way.
“Winston, on the other hand, decided about 20 months ago, that it was time for Jamaica to be back in the Winter Olympics and he made it happen almost single-handedly. He recruited, raised funds and managed the team. He was like a one-man federation and all the work he did paid off in the end…Both Marvin and Winston epitomise persistence, determination and the will to succeed on the big stage and make Jamaica proud.”
Harris will miss the Jamaicans race as he is scheduled to arrive in Sochi two days after the bobsled competition.
“I will however be glued to the television,” said Harris, the author of Keep on Pushing: Hot Lessons from Cool Runnings and Yes, I Can which tells the story of the original bobsled team overcoming overwhelming odds and displaying courage to pursue their dreams and win the hearts of the world.
Their remarkable story was captured in the film, Cool Runnings, an uproarious comedy about the embryonic bobsledders.
A former Sandhurst-trained Army captain, Harris was part of the first Jamaican team that completed the four-man race following a spectacular crash when driver Dudley Stokes lost control of the sled while coming out of a challenging turn on the track in Calgary. The Jamaicans also finished 30th out of 42 teams in the two-man team event.
They showed significant improvement four years later in Albertville with the two-man sleds placing 34th and 36th out of a 49-team field. With a 25th place finish, the four-man team finished ahead of 11 teams.
The team’s performance in the French Games was extraordinary considering the squad practiced in Jamaica on an obsolete make-shift push sled on a concrete surface at the Army base prior to going to Europe to start serious training.
In the 1998 Nagano Games, Harris and Michael Morgan was the 29th team to cross the finish line out of the 36 that completed the race.
With the start of the Olympics just a few days away, the Jamaicans are wrapping up training in the United States.
Watts and Dixon do sprint and weight training in the morning in Evanston before driving about an hour to a bobsled track in Park City in Utah to practice in the evening.
They leave for Sochi on February 3.