Watts likes to say his team brings the rhythm, the rhyme and the sunshine to the bobsled track. But they also bring a competitive fire. While Olympic medals are probably out of reach for Jamaica in Sochi, Watts and company have come here to be serious competitors and show the world that they’re no novelty act.
To do so, Watts and his teammates traded their Caribbean island home for chilly Evanston, Wyo. — population 12,262, elevation 6,749 feet above sea level — to train. Watts even moved his elderly mother there.
“She can’t get over it,” he said. “I have to keep pushing her, keep pushing her to get her some exercise going so her body to adapt to the elevation that we are. The cold is kind of easy to get over. You can pile on a lot of clothing, but you cannot get over the high altitude.”
The town is about 6 miles from Park City, Utah, home of the bobsled track used in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“I’m approaching the Olympics as an underdog,” he said. “I know I train very hard, I know I get out of retirement. I didn’t getting out of retirement just to be at the Olympics. I’m getting out of retirement because I want to achieve my goal. I’m going there to execute what I’m supposed to execute and the results, they will come.”
The team has had flashes of success. In 2002, with Watts at the helm, Jamaica’s two-man bobsled set an Olympic record on the Park City track with a 4.78-second time in the push-start segment of the race.
JamBob’s four-man crew finished 14th at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, beating out bobsleds from the United States, Russia, France and Canada.
But the team fell on hard times. It didn’t qualify for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, or the 2010 Vancouver Games. The team has been unable to find the kind of deep-pocketed sponsor that medal-contending countries have.
“Money is a key factor in the sport,” Watts said. “If there’s no money, you can’t achieve at the goal you want to achieve. It’s a very expensive sport. Once a team can get a company to sponsor, just like the U.S. team — they have BMW — that’s why they can be where they are now.”
Watts and Dixon earned an Olympics slot by earning enough points in low-tier North American bobsled contests to qualify for Sochi. They also made it here through the kindness of friends and strangers who donated $178,000 to the team largely through online fundraisers.
Now the Jamaican bobsledders are out to prove that while money is important, it isn’t everything.
“It’s the heart we have,” Watts said.
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