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Jamaican bobsled team works to afford Sochi; cash, sponsorship roll in

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The Jamaican bobsled team just got word Saturday that it had qualified for the Winter Olympics next month. Money appeared to be a major  obstacle, but now social media fundraising and a possible sponsorship have come to the rescue.

The team's qualification comes after a 12-year absence and a Disney movie, "Cool Runnings," portrayed the team's 1988 trip to the Calgary Olympics.

Qualifying was quite a relief, but team members had to make like Usain Bolt and race to the finish line to get some gold. Sled driver Winston Watt told reporters Saturday, funds were "at zero."

But on Monday, some of the concern was allayed. Donations were pouring in, click after click, on crowd funding sites Indiegogo, Crowdtilt and Dogecoin. Meanwhile, Jamaican Olympic officials said they and the Sochi Organizing Committee would cover all travel costs, the Associated Press reported. 

Still the fundraising for equipment continues. "The money's not all covered yet," Watt told AP. "We're still hoping for help. But I am very excited that we're officially qualified."

That help, too, may have come. Just after 11 a.m. Pacific time on Monday, a company called British ZX Recruitment tweeted to the Jamaica Olympic team's account that it was interested in sponsoring the team by covering what converts to more than $65,000. 

@JamaicaOlympics we are interested in sponsoring your Bobsled team - email admin@zxrecruitment.com and we wil potentially cover the £40k

— ZX Recruitment (@ZXRecruitment) January 20, 2014

George Meireles, ZX Recruitment general manager, confirmed the offer to the Los Angeles Times.

"Who wouldn’t be inspired to do so?" he said by email. "I am just surprised nobody else has stepped forward. I am not someone that has incredulous wealth by any means but I could stretch to help this team and I would love to make the difference."

Meireles explained that, as someone who grew up from humble beginnings himself, "the film 'Cool Runnings' was a great inspiration to me."

The original Jamaican team that competed in Calgary was backed by a couple of U.S. businessmen and the president of the Jamaica Olympic Assn.

Watt, who had retired after competing in the 2002 Games, returned to the sport this season at age 46 and trimmed the team from four members to two to cut costs.  Team Jamaican consists of Watt and brakeman Marvin Dixon. Their goal was to raise $80,000 in the next week or so for equipment and travel.  As the ever-determined and laid-back yet scrappy Jamaicans say, no problem. 

Overnight, the international village of social media pulled together to send some "yardies" to the Games.

Team Jamaica tweeted on Saturday morning: #BREAKING: Jamaica's 2 man Bobsled qualified for Winter Olympics in Sochi. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! #JamaicaBobsled.

It was retweeted nearly 9,000 times and favorited more than 2,600 times. 

On Indiegogo, the team has raised more than $15,000 as of about noon PST. Though there is no minimum amount, contributors who donate $50 or more get a Team Jamaica T-shirt, the site says. But, to quote the Jamaica Olympics Facebook page, "every mickle makes a muckle." In other words, every penny counts.

The effort on Crowdtilt, as of Monday noon, had raised more than $26,000, and the total grows every minute, it seems. 

Interestingly enough, the big bucks seem to be coming in on Dogecoin. (It's like Bitcoin for dogs, a cryptocurrency based on the Shiba Inu meme.) Maybe it's the sledding link that's resonated there because things are really mushing along. That effort has already raised over $30,000 for the team, according to the Dogecoin Foundation's page

For a country with no snow -- ever -- Jamaica has done pretty darn well in bobsled competition internationally. After its Olympic debut in 1988, the team returned to the Games in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002.

"It would mean the world to us, and I hope that our fans and friends back home in Jamaica would be proud and support us as we show the world that we don't give up and that Jamaica's bobsled is still alive," Watt told the Jamaica Gleaner. "This means so much. ... I didn't want to see Jamaican bobsled just die like that after all the sacrifices."

Based on the huge fundraising response, it's easy to see that this isn't just Jamaica's team. It's the international community of the Internet's team. Fans can follow the team's video diary.

Twitter: @mmaltaisLAT 

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