'Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!' It's Games time

Bivash Mukherjee
As we close in on the Beijing Winter Olympics, it is imperative that we rewind on some of the heroic feats on the slopes and ice that fed filmmakers with ready-made scripts.
Bivash Mukherjee

As we close in on the adrenaline-fueled action of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in few days, it is imperative that we rewind on some of the heroic feats and momentous triumphs on the slopes and ice that fed filmmakers with ready-made scripts.

Reliving the moments is probably the best way to get into the spirit of the Games.

There have been numerous films. Ice hockey fans may want to live through again legendary US coach Herb Brooks's driving passion in "Miracle," particularly his rousing "You were born for this" speech, which clinched the gold medal for the US over the widely favored Soviet Union at the Lake Placid Games in 1980.

Then there is the Michael Edwards-inspired biopic "Eddie the Eagle," while "I, Tonya" dramatizes ice skating champion Tonya Harding's career-ending criminal act. Or follow the single-minded obsession of the "Downhill Racer" to perfect his skills and compete in major sporting events.

As someone who grew up in tropical climates, my personal favorite is Walt Disney's 1993 smash hit "Cool Runnings."

The film, which stars the brilliant John Candy, is inspired by the exploits and challenges of the Jamaican bobsled team as they attempt to qualify for their first-ever Winter Games. It converts a motley bunch of relatively unknown individuals into cult legends overnight.

'Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!' It's Games time

From left: Actors Leon Robinson, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba and Doug E. Doug in a scene from the 1993 Disney movie "Cool Runnings."

Such has been the film's popularity that a simple search online throws up a variety of businesses cashing in on its success – from restaurants and bars, catering and take-out, endurance sports training, to catamaran cruises. There is even a family park named after the hit film in Cape Town, complete with steel tracks and wheeled bobsleds, for speed freaks!

The film is the quintessential underdog story, told through the acts of three Jamaican sprinters, who dream of making it to the Summer Olympics but instead find themselves working their way to the Winter Games along with a local pushcart derby champion.

With no funding, no state support and little knowledge of winter sports, they recruit a former American champion slacking off on the tropical island to be their bobsled coach.

In their obsessive desire to be Olympians, they end up choosing a sport they know nothing about, to compete in a climate they have never encountered.

In 1988, "the quartet" became the first Jamaican bobsledders to participate – nay, compete – at the Winter Olympics in Calgary.

But barring their presence at the Calgary Games, much of the film is, unfortunately, fiction.

"I believe in the credits, they say 'based on the true story of the Jamaica bobsled team.' What they should have said is 'VERY loosely based on the true story of the Jamaica bobsled team,'" Devon Harris, a three-time Olympian and part of the four-member team that competed at the Calgary Games, told Shanghai Daily in an email interview.

"Essentially, the facts are these: There was a bobsled team in 1988, we had trouble finding funding, we competed in the Olympics, and we crashed," Harris said. "Disney took a lot of poetic license with the movie ... made up facts and stretched some of them to make it funny. No one tripped at a track meet, there was no lucky egg, and we did not lift the sled and walk with it across the finish line."

Director Jon Turteltaub has admitted as much to taking creative licenses in the making of the film.

"We just kept refining the true story to make it into a better movie," Turteltaub has been quoted as saying on the IOC's official website, olympics.com. "We would never get away today with the changes we made to the true story."

But "the feeling is the same. The tone is the same. The ambition is the same. The absurdity was the same. And the main key events were the same," Turteltaub said.

Among the key events that the film got right is the crash that ended all dreams. Actual footage of the crash from the Games is used for impact, but while the film suggests it was a mechanical fault, it is strongly believed to be human error.

The team, nevertheless, pushed the sled over the finish line "to end the race" to wild applause from the crowd. It is the kind of finale we all dream of and offered the perfect story for the celluloid.

Harris was part of the four-member bobsled team that included Dudley Stokes, Michael White and Chris Stokes, Dudley's brother. Ironically, Chris was not part of the original crew but was roped in after one of the teammates was injured. He had only three days to train!

'Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!' It's Games time
Courtesy of Devon Harris / From the book “Keep On Pushing”

Coach Howard Siler with Jamaican bobsledders (from left) Devon Harris, Michael White, Dudley Stokes and Samuel Clayton at Lake Placid, the United States, in 1987.

'Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!' It's Games time
Courtesy of Devon Harris / From the book “Keep On Pushing”

Bobsledders practice their starts in Kingston.

Unlike the events depicted in the film, the true story involves two enthusiastic Americans who dreamed of forming a Jamaican bobsled team after viewing a local pushcart derby. They approached the Jamaican Olympic Association, convinced that sprinters would make excellent bobsledders, but received no response. They then attempted the unimaginable and approached the island's defense forces for an audience. Surprisingly, they were granted a hearing.

All the 1988 recruits, except for Chris who was studying in the US, came from the army. Dudley Stokes was a captain in the Jamaican army, Harris a lieutenant, and White a private.

Since Calgary, Jamaica has participated in six Winter Games. A two-woman Jamaican team made its first appearance at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

This time around, their presence in Beijing will be even bigger. Team Jamaica promised "fire on ice" in a Twitter post last week, confirming that it "will be the 1st time JAM has qualified in 3 Olympic bobsled events: four-man, two-man and women's monobob."

The monobob, a female-only, individual event, is making its Games debut this year.

In another first, Benjamin Alexander will become the first Jamaican skier to compete at the Beijing Games. The 38-year-old disc jockey from the United Kingdom began skiing in 2016 and qualified to represent the Caribbean island due to his Jamaican father. He has only been in Jamaica for four months – in 2020, locked out due to the pandemic.

'Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme!' It's Games time

Jamaican bobsledders compete at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia. Team Jamaica will compete in three Olympic bobsled events for the first time in Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

Another Caribbean country, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, has qualified for the men's bobsled event. One of the competitors, Mikel Thomas, has represented the country at both the Summer and Winter Games. Thomas is a three-time 110-meter hurdles Olympian.

Saudi Arabia and Haiti will be making their debuts in Beijing, while the Philippines, Thailand, India, and a few other countries from the sweltering climes, will be back for another edition of the cold-weather sport.

No tropical country has ever won an Olympic Winter Games medal of any type, and Beijing, with its ideal settings, offers the best bet to break the ice. Until that time, let us simply "Feel the Rhythm! Feel the Rhyme!" just like the "cool runners."

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