November 25, 2008

Jamaican bobsled team may find base in Pemberton

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The Jamaican Bobsled team’s dream of a training base for the 2010 Winter Olympics is gaining speed thanks to the people of Pemberton.

“I have given them a commitment that we can certainly house them, feed them, and transport them locally and we will put in place what is necessary to do that,” said Ian Porter who owns Copperdome Lodge in the Pemberton valley.

When Porter heard about the Jamaicans’ hope for a new practice base in or near Whistler he decided this was an opportunity that should not be missed.

“I look at as a cool opportunity, have some fun, do something that puts Pemberton on the map and also helps them out,” he said, adding that he hopes to help raise some significant funds for team.

“I don’t think Pemberton is getting a lot of direct benefit from (the 2010 Games) and that is why something like this can help out.”

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Porter reached the Jamaican team in the Caribbean and offered up his idea and it was warmly accepted said Chris Stokes, president of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation and one of the original sledders at the ’88 Games.

“The last report I got is that this is the direction we are going in,” he said.

“…We are working to pull it altogether and I want to work through the Chambers of Commerce and the mayors to make sure we get it right.”

Porter, a principal of Vancouver-based Everest Realty Advisors, said lending a hand to a team that Canada might be competing against is just acting with Olympic spirit.

“It is part of that whole Olympic spirit, where (a team) perceived as an underdog is given a chance and helped… out,” he said, adding if anyone has ideas for support to e-mail him at Copperdome@telus.net.

Paul Selina, chair of Pemberton’s Legacies Now Spirit of B.C. Committee, is helping Porter get the plans in place.

“We are working very hard on it at the moment and… we are really quite excited about it,” he said.

“The media show that they bring with them is amazing. There will be a documentary crew, but it also gives Pemberton a great cultural thing to support and get behind and I think it is a very good fit with the Pemberton community. It is a little bit off the beaten track type of team and we are a little bit off the beaten track type of community.”

Selina will outline some of the plans at a meeting in Pemberton this afternoon (Thursday). Future plans may include asking the Jamaican team to be part of the town’s Winterfest.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy is fully behind the idea, which coincidentally was brought to him the day after he watched a re-run of the movie Cool Runnings, Disney’s version of the Jamaican Bobsled team’s endeavours at the Calgary Olympics.

“It is the first tangible impact that 2010 will have on Pemberton and hopefully this is the beginning of many other interesting opportunities and activities that will take place over the next few years,” he said.

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The team will be in Whistler to compete at the World Cup at the beginning of February and that, said Stokes, will be a special moment as it was at Calgary’s 1988 Winter Games that the team got its start.

When they showed up they were met with both scorn and exuberance. While international sport bodies looked down their noses, Canadians adopted the Jamaican athletes, loving their indomitable spirit.

“It is a very important thing for us to come back to Canada because this is where we started,” said Stokes.

“The truth of the matter is that we have found so much support in Canada over the years. It is a special location for us, because it is where we started out in the sport.”

The JBS team became a phenomenon and when they crashed spectacularly on the Calgary track it was seen and heard around the world. Though many would have walked away forever, said Stokes, Canada helped the Jamaicans stay the course.

“Canadians probably don’t know this, but after the 1988 crash, when they continued to cheer us, that gave us the encouragement to go on because that was our weakest point,” he said.

“We could have just quit then, but the Canadians still supported us and that really gave us the strength to keep going. It is that attitude of the Canadian fan that has allowed us to have a program to this day.”

Canadians, while rooting for their own athletes at the upcoming 2010 Games, still have a soft spot for the Jamaican team.

At Games time the JBS team (www.jamaicabobsleighteam.com) always sets up a shop to sell merchandize and allow team members to meet their fans. Stokes said he is already looking for space in Vancouver and Whistler.

Finding sponsors and paying for equipment is always a struggle and Bobsleigh is one of the most expensive Olympic sports. So while Jamaica is “awash with tremendous athletic ability,” Stokes said getting them to the Olympics is challenging.

“The sport needs to consider this as well,” he said. “You do want the best athletic teams in the world winning. Otherwise it becomes a money game and let us not forget that this is the Olympic movement.”

The team is very serious about competition. It had a 14th place finish in the 4-man event at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games where Jamaica beat the USA and other powerful traditional teams, and was ranked eighth in the sport of bobsleigh in the world; They were the two and four man world push champions in 2000 and 2001; and they gained the Olympic start record in the two man event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Currently the team trains out of Evanston, Wyoming on the near-by Park City track.

The town’s partnership with the JBS was the brainchild of local lawyer Paul Skog.

“I called up and I said, ‘Hello Jamaica. How would you like to live in Evanston, Wyoming,’” he said.

“And to make a long story short, I got some local businesses interested and they chipped in some money we flew the team members out to visit in 1997.”

The rest is history, with the team training there in the winter months ever since, thanks to the giving nature of Evanston. The team is treated like celebrities with members often complaining of sore arms after training road-runs thanks to all the waving they have to do, said Skog.

The move also brought national and international media attention unlike anything the town had every seen.

It was also the first winter training base for Jamaican-born Lascelles Brown who won silver for Canada with Pierre Leuders in 2-man bobsled at the Torino Winter Games in 2006 — the first Winter Games the JBS team failed to qualify for since they started.

Brown was part of the Jamaican team until 2004 and in many ways his win for Canada validates the potential the JBS team has.

“We intend to qualify and be in the Olympics next year,” said Stokes, who is releasing a book telling the story of the Jamaican bobsled team.

And, he said, the team is looking forward to competing against Brown, who still has many friends amongst the JBS team.

“It is something we are excited about and look forward to and I hope for own guys that it will act as a motivation to surpass his level,” said Stokes.

“We intend to get our guys on the podium.”




Source: Pique News Magazine

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