At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, the world was truly surprised to see the tropical country of Jamaica competing in bob-sledding, a cold-weather sport. But the Jamaican four-man team quickly won the world over: Despite having to borrow spare sleds from other countries to compete, the Jamaicans were determined to show the world their sportsmanship.
The team didn’t technically finish the race: they crashed midway, but after which, they famously got out of their sled and walked to the finish line to great applause. This inspirational team inspired the movie, Cool Runnings. The characters in the film are fictional, although the original footage of the crash and the monumental walk of victory was used in the film. The bobsledding team continued to participate in the Winter Olympics the following years and showed significant improvement throughout the games. In 2000, the Jamaican bobsleigh team won the gold medal at the World Push Championships in Monaco.
Bringing Bobsledding to the Winter Olympics
So how on earth did the Jamaican team get introduced to the winter sport of bobsledding? The pioneering bobsleigh team was founded by two Americans who had family and business ties to Jamaica. During a visit to the island, they saw a pushcart derby and realized how similar pushcart racing is to bobsledding. Since bobsleighing requires a fast start, the Americans decided to recruit sprinters for the team. The idea was presented to the Jamaican Defence Force and a team selection was held, with Devon Harris finishing off with the fastest push time. He was obviously given the nickname ‘Pele’ for good reasons.
A Jamaican Pride
Harris became one of the founding members of the Jamaican bobsled team, fulfilling his dream of representing Jamaica in the Olympics. His ‘keep on pushing’ mentality played an important role in the success of the Jamaican bobsledding team – inspiring and motivating his fellow teammates to push on and finish the race. Harris has since founded the Keep On Pushing Foundation to support and enhance the education of kids in disadvantaged communities around the globe. He also works with Right to Play as an athlete ambassador, supporting their efforts in using sports and play in refugee camps around the world to enhance child development and build community capacity. Today, he has retired from bobsledding but he still works as a motivational speaker to help people around the world.
Although bobsledding didn’t gain catch on in Jamaica (it is a cold weather sport after all!), it did give Jamaicans plenty of reason to be proud of their own country. To the youths of Jamaica, they now know that there is nothing they can’t do.
Photo | Devonharris.com