Every year, students face the school year with dread. Homework begins piling up, and time is filled with studying, studying, and more studying. At times, it almost feels like they are underdogs in a rigged system designed to stress them out and ridicule them with bad test scores. But maybe they’re being set up for secret success–underdog stories are some of the greatest in history, with the likes of the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team and the 300 Spartans inspiring the world. With the second semester underway, here’s the story of some of the greatest underdogs in the world: the Jamaican bobsled team.
Up to the mid-80s, it was unthinkable for any tropical country to even enter the Winter Olympics. Sure, countries like Jamaica dominated the Summer Olympics, but when it came to the cold weather sports, they did not have the athletes, much less the location, to practice. That all changed when a man named George Fitch, the former Commercial Attache for the US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, joined forces with his friend Ken Barnes to form a Jamaican Winter Team. Barnes had been bragging about the dominance of the Jamaicans in the Summer Olympics, so Fitch challenged him to try the Winter Olympics, and an idea was born.
Eventually, Fitch decided to try the bobsled because, “Half the race is how quickly you can push a 600-pound object before you jump” and it “played to Jamaica’s sprinting strengths”. However, because of the risk involved, almost none of Jamaica’s athletes wanted to risk their careers by joining a gimmick team. Eventually, the three principal members were found: two runners and a helicopter pilot. Two alternates also joined the team, including an aspiring reggae musician.
At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, the Jamaican team originally only competed in the two-man bobsled event, but decided after finishing the event to enter the four-man competition as well. In the two-man event, the Jamaican team ended up taking 30th overall. It wasn’t the greatest finish, but it was a start. With the four-man bobsled event, the team seemed to be off to a better start, averaging 25th each race. However, on their fourth run, they came out of a turn, lost control, and suffered a crash in which the sled ended up flipping over with all four men underneath it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm4DjRcmoPY). Even though they had such a bad crash, the team still had the courage and strength to stand up and walk across the finish line. As a team, they decided to not compete further that year, instead recovering for the next Olympics.
Since the 1988 debut, the Jamaican team has not ever received a medal and did not even qualify for the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics. However, the sheer dedication against all odds to continue their quest for gold is incredibly inspiring. Even though they are from a tropical climate with limited space to practice, the Jamaican team never stops their training and always improves, even as underdogs. If anything, their status as underdogs has endeared them to the culture even more. In 2018, they hope to compete in the PyeongChang Olympics and continue their journey to the podium. As students, the amount of school can seem overwhelming, designed to dismantle the mind. However, let’s take a lesson from the Jamaican Bobsled Team: no matter how tough it gets, never quit.