Matthew Cotter and Josh Collins
The Jamaican bobsleigh team captured the hearts of the world with their valiant performance in the 1988 Winter Olympics, where despite crashing out, the unlikely competitors carried their bobsleigh heroically over the finish line. Impact Magazine caught up with Dudley Tal Stokes, team captain of Jamaica’s first foray into winter sports, to discuss the legacy of the team – including the movie they inspired, 1993 cult classic Cool Runnings.
Stokes had enjoyed quite the career before venturing into the Olympics, being an army veteran and regularly competing in their football team. “I was a helicopter pilot in the army, something I needed a lot of coordination for.” Stokes was handpicked by Ken Barnes, father of England legend John Barnes, for the role, and always had a competitive edge to him.
Stokes laughed – “like all good stories, this one started over a few rum and Cokes, but we turned it into a reality!”
On how the bobsleigh team came to be formed, Stokes laughed – “like all good stories, this one started over a few rum and Cokes, but we turned it into a reality!” After recruiting other people to complete the four-man team – including Dudley’s brother Mark, only drafted in last-minute following an injury – the team practiced for months despite having inadequate facilities.
“Many people in Jamaica thought we were wasting our time”, Stokes said, “and that the money should be used elsewhere for sports we were perceived as having a chance of winning a medal in”. At the Olympics, Jamaica specialises in athletics, winning 86 of their 87 medals in the discipline, and before 1988 had never even contemplated entering the Winter Olympics, where no tropical nation has ever won a medal to date.
Despite the valiant effort from the underdogs at the Games in Calgary, Canada, Stokes is a born winner and was disappointed that his team failed to finish and seriously believed they could compete for a medal. Two further Olympics followed for Stokes, with his highest position coming with the four-man team at Lillehammer in 1994, finishing above countries such as the USA and France that had much more financial backing.
Whilst preparing for their mesmerising performance in Lillehammer, the team were faced with another challenge that neither Dudley nor his teammates, would have anticipated the magnitude of. The release of the Hollywood sensation Cool Runnings. The film became an instant pop-culture revelation, amassing over $150 million at the Box Office.
Dudley felt the plot, very much romanticised for the theatres, had swayed too far from the original story and hadn’t represented the sacrifices made by himself and his teammates
But for Dudley, the film initially didn’t have the same impact as it had on the rest of the world. When asked about how he felt about the film on its release. “I didn’t like it one bit, to begin with”, he proclaimed. Dudley felt the plot, very much romanticised for the theatres, had swayed too far from the original story and hadn’t represented the sacrifices made by himself and his teammates. Dudley did later admit that he now finds the film rather charming and said he understands that the message behind Cool Runnings represents something much bigger than what he and his teammates achieved.
Since Stokes’ retirement from the sport, spreading the message conveyed in Cool Runnings and nurturing the new generation of Jamaican athletes has become a priority. A regular public speaker, Dudley has taken a keen interest in sports science and speaks strongly about the protection and care of young athletes’ mental health.
To read the full interview with Dudley, please pick up a copy of Impact Magazine’s next print edition, set to be released December 10th!
Matthew Cotter and Josh Collins
Featured image used courtesy of [Daisy Craydon]. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 1 courtesy of [Daisy Craydon]. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 2 courtesy of [Daisy Craydon]. No changes were made to this image.
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