AFRICANGLOBE- Defending champions Germany and the United States are favourites in the Olympic two-man bobsleigh, but it’s rag-to-riches Jamaica, powered to Sochi by a global fundraising campaign, who will capture the imagination.
Training on Thursday should see a battle for early dominance between German pilot Maximilian Arndt and US rival Steven Holcomb.
Australia’s two-man team of Duncan Harvey and Heath Spence are set to compete in the fourth heat, and will be confident of making at least the top 15 of the competition.
However, they will be outshone by 46-year-old Winston Watts, back at the Games after a 12-year absence, and brakeman Marvin Dixon, the Jamaican duo seeking to summon the spirit that inspired “Cool Runnings”, the Hollywood movie based on the exploits of their ground-breaking predecessors from the 1988 Calgary Games.
The team needed an Internet campaign to help raise the initial funds to finance their trip to Russia which produced about $80,000, with more cash flowing in from sponsors and their federation.
The campaign had such success that Watts and Dixon had to plead with their fans to stop sending money, fearing they would be damned as greedy opportunists if they didn’t call a halt.
True to their roller-coaster build-up to Sochi, the Jamaican duo then arrived without their luggage and equipment, lost in transit between New York’s JFK and the host city.
Watts said he was delighted to extend his Olympic career into a fourth Games.
“I really enjoy my Olympic experience. It’s just awesome. I’ve been away from the Olympics for 12 years (since Salt Lake in 2002) and there’s no words to explain how I feel right now being here,” he said.
Other bobsleigh teams in Sochi said the presence of the Jamaicans could only be good for the sport.
“I know those guys, they did work hard and it’s not easy to qualify for the Games,” said Holcomb.
“I mean they tried in 2006 and they missed, they tried in 2010 and they missed. They tried again and they made it and it is good (for the sport) to have that exposure.”
“They have a great story and I know those guys and they are great guys.”
World Cup winner Holcomb, who ended a 62-year Olympic drought for the United States by winning the four-man gold at Vancouver in 2010, looks clear favourite in the two-man, having won five of eight World Cup rounds this season.
Holcomb’s team are highly favoured, but they will face tough opposition from the Germans, who won this season’s World Cup in the four-man format.