The Jamaican Women's Bobsled Team Almost Lost Its Sled (& Hasn't Even Raced Yet)
The coach of the first-ever Jamaican women's bobsled team abruptly quit on Wednesday, and in a potential deathblow to the team's Winter Olympic dreams, she threatened to take the athletes' bobsled with her. This could have torpedoed the team's opportunity to even compete in the 2018 PyeongChang Games — but on Friday, a Jamaican beer company stepped in to save the day. Red Stripe has given the Jamaican women's bobsled team a sled to use in competition, USA Today confirmed on Friday, avoiding a potential crisis for the Jamaican delegation.
“We have been gifted a bobsled,” the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation president, Chris Stokes, told a Jamaican newspaper. “We have accepted [Red Stripe's] generosity and we are preparing the sled." The BBC reported on Wednesday that the team's driving coach, Sandra Kiriasis, quit after she was reassigned to be the track performance analyst instead.
Kiriasis, who told the BBC that she had "never known such disappointment in this sport," also claimed to be legally responsible for the sled that the team was using, and suggested that she might take it with her when she left. The Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation disputed this. Enter Red Stripe: The mere prospect of the first-ever Jamaican women's team not having a bobsled they could use to compete at the Olympics was unacceptable to the Kingston-based beer company.
And so Red Stripe offered, on Twitter, to buy the team a new bobsled. The company's outreach made sure that the Jamaican team's dreams of competing would become reality. "We are in possession of the sled, which is a gift from Red Stripe," Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation spokesperson Kathleen Pulito confirmed to USA Today on Friday. "It's the beginning of a beautiful partnership [between Red Stripe and the federation]. We’re ready to compete at the highest level at these PyeongChang Games.”
"As a beer born and brewed on the same island as these athletes, we want to ensure they have what they need to proudly compete," Andrew Anguin, a senior marketing manager for Red Stripe, told USA Today in an email.
Kiriasis, an Olympic gold medalist in her own right, explained her decision to quit the team in a lengthy Facebook post.
"Without giving any reasons I was told out of the blue that with immediate effect I should work only as a track and performance analyst, would have to leave the Olympic village, would lose my accreditation as part of the Jamaican team and was not supposed to have any more contact with the athletes," Kiriasis wrote on Wednesday. "I have not abandoned the team but have chosen not to continue due to the unacceptable conditions offered by the federation without any explanation and which would have forced me to sacrifice my reputation and my professionalism. This is the sole reason why I have turned down this change to my role."
The federation's president, however, said that Kiriasis had not been an effective coach during her time coaching the Jamaican women.
"The lady was a hugely destructive force on the team," Stokes told Reuters shortly after Kiriasis left. ”Now that she is off the team, synergy is much better, tension is down and athletes are now able to focus in a much healthier environment." He added that “if you come on the team you have to be a team player. There are no Gods and Goddesses here.”
Although Jamaican bobsledders have stormed the Olympics in the past, the PyeongChang Games will be the first to feature a women's bobsled team from the island nation. The Jamaican women will be piloted by Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, who competed in the 2014 Sochi Games on the U.S. team before switching her allegiance to Jamaica, where her father was born.
Fenlator-Victorian told NBC Olympics that the team's original sled was named "Mr. Cool Bolt," a reference to Olympic runner Usain Bolt. It's unclear whether the new sled has been named yet.