Royal high fives for Jamaican bobsleighers

Posted at 02/18/2014 11:57 AM | Updated as of 02/18/2014 11:57 AM
Jamaica's two-man bobsleigh pilot Winston Watts (R), starts during a training session of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, February 13, 2014. Photo by Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters.

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia - Larger than life Jamaican driver Winston Watts had just steered his bobsleigh for the third and final run, laughed and joked his way through a forest of TV crews and reporters and looked like he was about to catch the death of cold.

Then he spotted a familiar face alongside the finish area at the Sanki Sliding Centre and erupted into a belly laugh.

The man wearing the baseball cap amongst a throng of excited volunteers wielding camera phones and autograph pads was none other than Monaco's Prince Albert, although few noticed in the clamor to be snapped with Jamaica's cult heroes.

"You're looking in great shape man!" Prince Albert said as the two men from vastly different backgrounds, but joined by their passion for bobsleigh, high-fived and joked like old buddies.

It was a brief snapshot of the magic of the Olympic Games on the night the 46-year-old Watts may have steered a tube of gleaming black steel down an Olympic ice chute for the last time.

Prince Albert made his Olympic bobsleigh debut in Calgary in 1988 where the Jamaican four-man team that inspired the movie Cool Runnings also made its debut.

Watts was not part of that original foursome but took part in 1994, 1998 and 2002 before returning this year to help Jamaica put a sledge on the start line after a 12-year gap.

With brakeman Marvin Dixon they caused quite a commotion at the Sochi Games, even if they finished 29th out of 30 only courtesy of Serbia's crew failing to start their third run.

"It's great to see them back at the Olympics," Prince Albert told Reuters. "It's always been a great story from the start and I should know because I was there when it started in Calgary.

"It's great to see Winston back in competition and back at the Games. I don't know how much longer he'll continue, but he's still in great shape.

"They've brought a lot of additional attention to the bobsleigh event here and let's hope that they get the right support to be able to continue."

INTERNET APPEAL

Watts and Dixon had to raise $80,000 through an internet appeal even to be able to take their place in Sochi after scraping through the qualification process.

Then they arrived without their luggage.

But it all worked out in the end as they continued the legacy started by Devon Harris, Dudley Stokes, Michael White and Nelson Stokes 26 years ago.

"Hopefully, we send a message to the smaller countries, you don't need snow to do bobsleigh. You don't need snow to do winter sports," Watts, who retired in 2006 and worked in the oil industry before being drawn back, told reporters.

"I'm happy to be here for Jamaica and bring light to these Olympics, I'm really thankful for that. It's been quite a journey but I'm a very strong man and nothing stands in my way. I just keep moving."

Asked if this was his final Olympic slide, he said: "Hopefully... because I don't want to cramp a younger kid. I'll bring some younger one through and fade out.

"There have been lots of obstacles, training and funding, stumbling blocks to get here but when you see all our friends here it's worth it. Jamaica is still alive."

Watts said he would now stay on to support the Brazilian four-man bobsleigh team.

"I love this temperature here," he said. "Why should I want to run away and leave the spirit of the Olympics."

Former sprinter Dixon was reveling his new-found celebrity. "I've had 2,000 friend requests on Facebook from all over the world," the 30-year-old, said.

"It's going to be a warm welcome when I get home."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman)