Cool Runnings 2: Jamaican women ready for Olympic bobsled debut
Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian felt ready to make her World Cup debut for Jamaica in December. All she needed was a name for her sled.
She stopped brainstorming when she received a text message from her coach, 2006 Olympic champion of Sandra Kiriasis of Germany, with the perfect name:
“Mr. Cool Bolt,” a nod to the bobsled movie “Cool Runnings” as well as the fastest man of all time, Usain Bolt.
“Hopefully by paying homage to Usain Bolt,” Fenlator-Victorian said, “that speed comes across in bobsled.”
Jamaica has sent men’s sleds to six Winter Olympics, beginning with the ragtag 1988 crew that inspired “Cool Runnings.” But Fenlator-Victorian is set to become the first woman to pilot a Jamaican sled at a Winter Games.
Her name might sound familiar to U.S. bobsled fans.
She represented the U.S. in Sochi, finishing 11th with Lolo Jones. The next World Cup season, she placed third in the overall standings.
“It was one of my best seasons,” Fenlator-Victorian said, “but something was missing.”
She sat down after the 2014-15 World Cup season with her future husband, Aaron "Surf" Victorian. He asked about her goals, since she was already an Olympian.
“I want to make an impact, and I want it to mean something,” Fenlator-Victorian responded. “Of course I want to win a gold medal and be competitive, but besides that, I want something more.”
Victorian floated the idea of competing for Jamaica.
The Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation had approached Fenlator-Victorian in 2010, knowing her father, Cosman, is Jamaican. But the New Jersey native turned them down, since she was already enrolled in a U.S. bobsled development program.
But in 2015, Fenlator-Victorian decided to transfer allegiances, believing she could increase diversity and female participation in the sport by representing the warm-weather nation.
“I want to show it doesn’t matter where you come from,” she said. “I’m a girl from Jersey who is mixed. Who would have thought that I would be bobsledding?”
Fenlator-Victorian faced new challenges.
Whereas she estimates that most countries have six or seven mobile tablets to review film, Jamaica only has two, and one is Fenlator-Victorian’s personal device.
Whereas the U.S. team trains at state-of-the-art facilities at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, Fenlator-Victorian often has to move equipment outside when the Jamaican gym gets too crowded.
“Sometimes I think we get caught up with all of the special technology and thinking you need this or that to be successful,” she said. “It takes away from the grit and grind of just keeping it simple and making due with what you have.”
But Jamaica has no shortage of sprinters to give the sled a fast start.
Fenlator-Victorian’s brakewoman, Carrie Russell, is a 2013 World 4x100m champion in track and field.
She has even used Twitter to try to recruit other sprinters, including two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and 2016 Olympic 100m and 200m champion Elaine Thompson, to bobsled.
“As much as it’s fun and games, I’m definitely serious,” Fenlator-Victorian said. “Just experiencing it opens your eyes.”
Fenlator-Victorian finished seventh in her World Cup debut for Jamaica, exactly two months before the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Games. It was the best-ever elite international result for a Jamaican women’s bobsled team.
She is now more confident and having more fun than ever.
“I got caught up with the pressure to be perfect all the time going into Sochi,” she said. “I’ve worked on being in the moment and enjoying sliding.”
Chris Stokes, the President of the Jamaica Bobsled Federation and a push athlete for 1988 Jamaican Olympic bobsled team, believes a top-10 result is realistic for the Jamaican women in PyeongChang.
“Jazmine is one of the elite drivers in the world,” Stokes said. “We have the driving, we have the athletic ability and we have the equipment to do very well.”
Rather than targeting a specific Olympic result, Fenlator-Victorian’s goal is to inspire.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t come from a place with snow or cold or a background in the sport,” she said. “If you have the ability and desire, you can make your dreams come true.”
Fenlator-Victorian knows that she will have nostalgia on her side when wearing the black, green and yellow uniform of Jamaica.
The name of her Rally Me fundraising campaign? Cool Runnings 2.
Hear more about Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian on the official NBC Olympics podcast, The Podium. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts for more episodes throughout The Winter Olympics.