WINTER OLYMPICS : Notes : The Jamaicans Arrive Hobbin and A Bobbin

Times Staff Writer

Can a bobsled team from Jamaica find happiness and a medal in the Winter Olympics?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Jamaicans do not belong on bobsleds, they belong on the beach. At least that’s the common perception, but all that is changing at the Winter Olympics, where the Caribbean country of Jamaica is fielding a bobsled team for the first time.

No one gives the five-man Jamaican team much of a chance to be competitive, but the Jamaicans are already gold medalists in one race--the merchandising race.


Jamaican bobsled team T-shirts at $15 and sweat shirts at $28 are a hot item in a very cold climate. The T-shirt, which depicts two Rastfarians bobsledding through a grove of palm trees, carries the inscription “Hottest thing on Ice.” The team is also marketing a reggae record, “Hobbin & A Bobbin” (alternate title: The Jamaican Bobsled Theme Song).

The team has been around only long enough to line up a few corporate sponsors, but the official team drink is Appelton Rum.

Team members include Dudley Stokes, a helicopter pilot, who is the driver and team captain, and Frederick Powell, a musician and part-time electrician.

Stokes described the feeling of bobsledding: “Nice, man.”

Two of the five-man team had never seen snow until two years ago, but the team is participating in the Winter Olympics in the two-man and four-man bobsled events.

The Jamaicans had one problem with the four-man bobsled. They didn’t have one. So they bought one from the Canadian Bobsled Federation. They named the two-man bobsled Ragamuffin.

The initial lack of a bobsled shouldn’t be too much of a drawback, said American financier George Fitch, who conceived and developed the team, partially for the marketing possibilities.

“Jamaica has the best athletes in the world,” Fitch said. “The challenge becomes if Jamaicans can learn a strange sport in a very small period of time and be competitive in it.”

The team was formed last September and didn’t get in a bobsled until last October, when the team came here to train.

In a World Cup race in December in Ingls, Austria, the Jamaicans finished 34th and 36th out of 41 teams in the two-man event.

Fitch said it is the team goal to reach the top 20 at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

Fitch also said there is one more goal: “To have the center for training Jamaican bobsledders in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.”

By that time, they will certainly be hobbin & a bobbin, all right.

La Bomba started ticking at the Winter Olympics Saturday, timed to go off at least once during the week beginning next Sunday.

Alberto Tomba marched with the Italian team in the opening ceremony, then greeted the world’s media with statements such as: “I’m not a messiah. I’m just a normal guy who wins a few times. I don’t know how I did it, but I did. I trained hard last summer and put myself in the spirit of winning.”

Tomba, in fact, is more like a Caesar in his native land, which expects nothing less than a gold medal--and preferably two or three--from him here in the Alpine events.

The sturdily built, 21-year-old skier is not entered in today’s downhill and won’t race until next Sunday, in the super-G. Then he’ll go in the giant slalom on Thursday, Feb. 25, and the slalom on Saturday, Feb. 27.

In the meantime, he will train at Panorama in British Columbia, away from the clamor and distractions of the Games.

Last February, in only his second international season, Tomba earned a bronze medal--behind Switzerland’s Pirmin Zurbriggen and Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli--in the giant slalom at the World Championships in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

He has won seven slaloms and giant slaloms on this winter’s World Cup tour, but displayed signs of fatigue, or possibly too much celebrating, when he finished ninth at Schladming, Austria, in the last race before the circuit took a break for the Olympics.

“I went home and rested for a few days,” Tomba said through an interpreter, “and now I think I am back in shape. I know my responsibility. I am expecting to win and do my best to help the entire team ski well here.”

The son of a well-to-do textile manufacturer, Tomba lives near Bologna, where he allegedly has a steady girlfriend. However, she did not accompany him to Canada, and there’s no telling what her mental state will be two weeks from now..

Said Tomba recently to a Sports Illustrated reporter: “She is very jealous when she sees me on the television surrounded by so many girls. They are all devouring me with their eyes. I think this upsets her.”

Robert J. (Paddy) Sampson, 62, the executive producer of the Opening Ceremony, agreed with a lot of cold spectators, who thought that the show was a bit too long.

“It was too long,” he said. “We aimed for 90 minutes. It was 30 minutes too long. The reasons lie in the complexities of the Olympics--the seating of the fans, television needs, protocol needs.

“If we ever did it again, I’d like to bring it in at an hour.”

The last paragraph in a seven-paragraph news release issued by the City of Calgary, describing a sumptuous brunch held Saturday in luxurious surroundings for His Worship Mayor Ralph Klein, members of the city council, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, other members of the Olympic family and government officials:

“The event was staged with military precision within one hour. This was necessitated by the fact that, immediately following the meal, all dignitaries were transported to McMahon Stadium for the opening ceremonies.”

Fast food in the elegant mode?

U.S. figure skaters Debi Thomas, Jill Trenary and Caryn Kadavy were here Saturday for the Opening Ceremony, but they were scheduled to return to their Colorado training sites until next week, Thomas to Boulder, Trenary and Kadavy to Colorado Springs.

They are not scheduled to compete until Feb. 24, when women’s figure skating begins with the compulsory figures.

Said Thomas, who did not even bring along her skates: “I’m here on vacation. Coming here and seeing what things are like is going to motivate me to go home and prepare for five more days. It won’t be as grueling as it might have been.”

How do Canadians feel about their country this morning?

Predictably proud.

How proud?

Here’s a paragraph penned by George Gross, corporate sports editor of the Calgary Sun, in Saturday’s Olympic edition:

“Indeed, how the world must envy--or admire--us for being a country of economic stability, political maturity and human compassion. In short, the closest thing to what life may have been like on that small piece of land once inhabited by Adam and Eve.”

That proud.

Mats Kihlstrom of Sweden may be back here shortly after the Games.

Kihlstrom, a defenseman for the Swedish hockey team, is a draftee of the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League.

General Manager Cliff Fletcher of the Flames said he would be talking with Kihlstrom after the competition here.

“We know he’d like to come,” Fletcher said. “We talked to him before he went home from the Canada Cup.”

Times assistant sports editors Bob Lochner and Mike Kupper contributed to this story.