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Cool Runnings

In the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Jamaica put forward a four-man bobsledding team. This unlikely story of courage and human triumph went on to inspire the 1993 Hollywood classic, Cool Runnings. One of the team’s founding members, Devon Harris reflects on their improbable journey to Olympic fame and the Hollywood movie that brought this story to life.

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Devon Harris
The first Jamaican bobsled team jumps into a bobsled

There was no way I was going to come this far and not do it

“I am scared of speed and heights”, says Devon Harris, a former Olympian and one of the first four-man Jamaican bobsledding team. Temperatures had fallen to sub-zero degrees in Calgary and the Jamaican bobsled team had finished one of many practice runs down the vertiginous Olympic ice luge. “I remember getting in the sled for the first time in Calgary and being scared to death,” recalls Harris, “crawling in next to a guy who had never even driven one, you don’t know what to expect. So I just said, “If I die I die”. I just resigned myself. There was no way I was going to come this far and not do it.”

Harris, a competitive sprinter by training, was born and raised in the slums of Kingston Jamaica. According to the former Olympian, the slums were a place ravaged by poverty. For the young Jamaican, his view of the world was directly shaped by witnessing this firsthand. In his early years, Harris recalls evenings spent leaning against a lamppost outside his childhood home, looking out at Forest Hills, an affluent neighbourhood that lay on the horizon. From his experience as a former Olympian athlete, Harris asserts that the burden of circumstance provoked an almost mercurial drive to succeed. “I think the guys I grew up with just looked around, accepted their environment and saw no way out,” says Harris, “it’s easier to accept that as your destiny but I felt the weight of it.”

Two Crazy Americans

Before being selected to compete in the Winter Olympics in Calgary,  Harris had hopes of attending the 1988 Olympics as a sprinter. “At the time I was dreaming about competing at the events in 1988 thinking that if I did what I knew best, which was just to run, I would get fit enough to go to the Olympic Games. I know now that was not really enough.” Through the intervention of fate, providence stepped in in the form of “two crazy Americans” - George Fitch and William Moloney. “They came up with an idea to make a bobsled team. I tried out, and here we are”. Local support was slow to catch on. “Their first reactions were that it was perhaps the most ridiculous idea conceived by man,” says Harris. Finally, after months of training and with the team’s eventual arrival in Calgary, general opinion rallied in remarkable solidarity. “We think we are the best at whatever we do,” says Harris with pride, “only a Jamaican would think of doing bobsledding in a hot country.

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