Dr Paul Wright | Go girls! ... Bobsled 'glad bag' buss
Today, Tuesday, February 20, 2018, Jamaica's female bobsled team of Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian (Driver) and Carrie Russell (brakes person) will compete in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is a historic first for Jamaica's women, coming after our men competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics 20 years ago.
The journey to Pyeongchang has been dramatic and even weird. When the decision was taken to get a women's team to the Winter Olympics, sponsors at a meeting in the USA were advised that it could reasonably take seven years to accomplish the goal of Olympic representation. Our girls accomplished the feat in three years! To succeed in this unlikely quest, Jamaica needed an experienced (and skillful) driver. Up came Jazmine, who had Olympic experience, having previously represented the mighty USA in former Games.
The next step would be to find a brakes-person with the explosive strength and speed necessary to make the team competitive. Sprint coach legend Stephen Francis was contacted, and he suggested that Carrie Russell should give it a try as her start needed "work". Carrie, an accomplished sprinter of international pedigree, had a medal from the athletics World Championships and seemed to be on the verge of replacing some of the "ageing" female sprinting stars of the world's premier sprinting nation.
During the learning and training phase, Carrie not only improved her start, as her coach had hoped, but developed a bond with driver Jazmine and the rest of the team. Indeed, in interviews conducted while in Jamaica (on a much-needed training break), both Carrie and Jazmine were full of praise for their "bond" and the positive relationship with the coaching staff and support team from our bobsled federation. There was even talk of Japan coming on board with support by designing and building a sled with specifics suited to our two pioneers. Thus, the group improved with every training session, and in competition, qualified for the Olympics, way ahead of the predicted timeline. Local sprinter Audra Segree was added to the group, and everything seemed to be in place for a historic run in the Olympics.
Then a few days before competition came a literal bombshell. Drivers' coach Sandra Kiriasis announced that she was leaving the team as her role had been abruptly changed to 'track and performance analyst', a designation that would substantially reduce her interaction with the girls. The announcement was conveyed to Ms Kiriasis by federation boss Chris Stokes, and the "new" drivers coach would be his brother, Dudley Stokes!
To make matters worse, the resigning coach announced that the sled was hers and that she wanted her sled. Caramba! The magnificent gesture by local beer giant Red Stripe, "no sled ... no problem", while being welcomed by all, had its own "drawback as a new sled would mean weeks of practice and training to familiarise themselves with the nuances of a new sled. Red Stripe lived up to their promise, and €40,000 was indeed wired to the account of the team in South Korea, but luckily, after impressive negotiations, the "old" sled was purchased and the practices continued in Pyeonchang with commendable performances, which included a ninth-place finish on one practice run.
But why did this dramatic chain of events need to happen days before competition? Although the federation boss implied that a "hugely destructive force" had been removed from the team and that "team synergy" had improved, there is just no way that the performance of the ladies would be unaffected. The nation desperately hopes that, indeed, a "hugely destructive force" has been removed, but what if? What if what has been portrayed to the world was nothing more than an internal power struggle with personal egos triumphing over athletic ability? Let us hope that this kerfuffle has nothing to do with administrators hogging the limelight, forgetting that at the Olympics, and indeed in all sporting competitions, it is the athlete, the person on the field of play, who must be allowed to "hog the limelight". I do believe that when the centre of the Earth is discovered, a lot of our local sports administrators are going to be very disappointed to discover that they are not it.
I do believe, however, that our Olympic bobsled ladies are superstars, and as a famous man once said, "The strongest muscle in a superstar's body is in the head. The ability to push out harmful thoughts and focus on the now is uncanny". Go ladies! Make us doubly proud! Our glad bag bus already!