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Jamaica's bobsled team arrives in Canada but faces commute to train

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WHISTLER, B.C. - The Jamaican bobsleigh team arrived here Sunday but it appears the squad will have to commute to the Canada Olympic Park in Calgary to train.

In 1988, the Jamaican squad stunned the world by competing at the '88 Calgary Winter Games, a feat immortalized in the Disney film "Cool Runnings." The team's current members have made Pemberton, B.C., a North American training base for practice and preparations for the Whistler World Cup in February as well as qualifying runs for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

There is only one major glitch - the team has yet to be granted on-ice training time at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

"We are confident that magic will ensue and track time will open up before the team starts competing," said Stephen Samuels of the Jamaican Bobsleigh Federation. "In the meantime, some of the team members will commute to Calgary to train on the ice."

For about 11 years, the Jamaicans have trained in Evanston, Wy. But with the 2010 Olympics on the horizon, the team expressed interest in relocating to Whistler for training.

While Pemberton, just 20 minutes north of Whistler, offered support months ago, the Whistler Sliding Centre just learned of the team's arrival.

"The first communication we received from the Jamaican National Bobsleigh Federation regarding access to the venue for track time came early December and we are unable to accommodate their request as this late date," said Craig Lehto, director at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The Whistler Sliding Centre is working to give the Jamaican team time on the track but it likely won't happen until the new year.

Lehto said two international training weeks are being organized for January and February and teams requesting additional track access need to apply.

Officials in Pemberton, meanwhile, might like the Jamaicans to stick around.

Ian Porter, owner of the Copperdome Lodge in Pemberton, said the Jamaicans' arrival gives the community a stake in the 2010 Winter Games.

"I don't see Pemberton getting a lot out of these Olympics to date," Porter said. "In the short term, if we have to fly the team to Calgary, we will.

"The community is incredibly supportive of the team."

Though the Jamaican team can seem like a novelty, Porter notes the squad consists of serious athletes.

The four-man team was initially ridiculed in Calgary, where it finished 29th. The team's best Olympic result was a 14th-place finish in Lillehammer in 1994.

Porter and other members of the Pemberton community are looking at sponsorship options to help cover the other costs for the team. The Jamaicans will be in Canada through next spring before returning home for the summer and returning next fall leading up to 2010.

"We couldn't do this without Pemberton," Samuels said. "The team will be taking advantage of whatever facilities are available in terms of indoor training and spending a lot of time in the gym.

"They are eager to become a part of the community and hoping the experience adds up to 'Cool Runnings,' Part 2."

The six members of the Jamaican team - Wayne Thomas, Hannukkah Wallace, Joel Alexander, Marvin Dixon, Garnett Jones and Wayne Blackwood - have reportedly committed to getting involved in community activities.

"We are delighted to be hosting the Jamaican bobsled team here in our beautiful town," said Pemberton mayor Jordan Sturdy. "We are all great fans of their story and legacy, and especially admire their great competitive spirit."

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