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Real-Life Cool Runnings Bobsled Captain Made Nearly Nothing From The Movie

Tom Wood

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Real-Life Cool Runnings Bobsled Captain Made Nearly Nothing From The Movie

Featured Image Credit: Supplied

The captain of the famous Jamaican bobsled team from the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, which inspired the classic movie Cool Runnings, has revealed that he made almost nothing from the movie, but has no regrets about the story being told.

In fact, Dudley Stokes is glad that the film ended up being made at all, as it looked extremely unlikely that their story – however amended – would ever reach the silver screen.

Stokes told LADbible: “By no means was it clear that this film would get made or make any money.

“I certainly didn’t believe it, I didn’t see how people could make a movie out of then ridiculousness of the 1988 team, that was my core gut feeling, that this is a waste of time.

“[I thought] we’re going to come back [the next Winter Olympics] and you’re going to make a movie out of that.”

Dudley Stokes has made a long career in bobsled.
Dudley Stokes has made a long career in bobsled.

Despite those concerns, the film was made and fans have been enjoying it for more nearly 30 years now.

Not that he was immediately a fan, however. In fact, Stokes' distaste for the film has been widely reported.

More on that later, though.

Stokes and his team became the inspiration of one of the best-known sporting films of all time, but they didn’t become millionaires overnight due to the films success.

He explained: “No, I didn’t make any money. I learned some hard lessons in life.

“The overall rights for the film were $250,000 of which I was one of about 15 or 17 people, it was a small amount of money.

“They had put a part in the contract about percentage of net revenue, but one of the lessons I’ve learned in life is that there is no net.

“Despite being made for $15 million [and it] grossed $157 million worldwide, is what is reported, it is still in a loss-making position.

“They have several ways that they accomplish that in Hollywood through accounting, which they’re allowed to do.

“So, no – from that respect – it hasn’t been a commercial success for me, but it has opened a whole lot of other doors and allowed me to live a life of relative comfort and privilege.”

Cool Runnings is still an absolute classic. Credit: Disney
Cool Runnings is still an absolute classic. Credit: Disney

Whilst the 1993 movie is an absolute classic, the true story is completely different and no less compelling.

Of course, there are no lucky eggs in the real-life tale, but there may well have been moments after a crash on one fateful run that the competitors might have thought of asking one another: ‘ya dead?’.

The team was the first ever team from Jamaica to compete in the Winter Olympic bobsled.

After breaking down the barriers of 1988, Stokes went on to compete in three more Games afterwards, becoming the fastest black male driver in bobsled history.

He’d already experienced adversity and developed discipline and skills from his days as an elite fighter pilot in the army, but nothing had prepared him for life in a four-man sled.

Their campaign to reach the start line was beset with problems, as both competitors and coaches left the team in the lurch.

Their inexperience saw their first day at the Canadian venue become a ‘real comedy show’ – as Stokes puts it – and it looked as if they wouldn’t improve.

Remember, mistakes made at great speed on slick ice can have life-threatening consequences.

Team Jamaica march at the 1988 Winter Olmypics. Credit: Alamy
Team Jamaica march at the 1988 Winter Olmypics. Credit: Alamy

On the second day, Stokes awoke with a fever and even fell over on the ice, fracturing his collar-bone before they had started.

“90 seconds later, we were on the ice [again],” he continued, "We had the seventh fastest start in the competition, but we got in the sled badly.

“I was crushed up against the front of the sled and we started going down faster than I’d ever been in a bobsled in my life.

“By the time we came to the turn I was ‘behind the sled’ which means that I was not steering in then right moments.

“We started porpoising [wobbling], and when the curve finished the sled was going up and it went airborne and crashed down on my head.

“That began 28 seconds – 2,000 feet – of varying emotions.”

Varying emotions is a remarkable way to describe something that could easily have killed him or his teammates.

Stokes went on: “Miraculously I wasn’t hurt.

“My thoughts were ‘not in the Olympics, because now I’m crashing before a billion eyeballs’.

“I hit my head really hard, and it was a life flashing before my eyes moment. I was really crushed beneath the sled, and I couldn’t get under.

“I hit my head two more times and realised I wasn’t going to be able to change the situation, at which point I forcibly relaxed.”

Stokes still holds the record for the fastest time by a black bobsled driver. Credit: Alamy
Stokes still holds the record for the fastest time by a black bobsled driver. Credit: Alamy

This calmness of mind was trained into him during his days behind the controls of a fighter jet in the Air Wing of the Jamaican Defence Force.

His period of unusual reflection led him to the conclusion that he would come back and do better, which they undoubtedly did.

“The fact that I could have been killed was not uppermost in my mind,” he said.

“There was nothing I could do having made those decisions and got in that position, that was what it was.

“The question was – if you survive this – I’ve done all I can, so let’s see how the next few seconds go and we’ll take it from there.”

After wrongly imagining their Olympic mission to have been a failure, Stokes suffered with depression after the games, leaning on his physical training to help him through a ‘sad, dark place’ where he experienced feelings of ‘hopelessness and failure’.

Still, the reception they received back home in Jamaica was a warm one.

Eventually, he came to realise that their efforts were about more than winning a bobsled competition, but about representing their country at an elite level, and breaking down barriers for others through their adversity.

Stokes said: “It is a unique achievement, and I am proud of that. I am proud of going and the marker we set down.

“[In Lillehammer in 1994] we finished 14th overall, we were 10th on two of the four runs, it was the best performance by a non-traditional nation and the best finish from a black male driver in Olympic history to date.

“So, those are markers that people need to look at and aim for.”

'Cool Runnings' immortalised the Jamaican bobsled team. Credit: Disney
'Cool Runnings' immortalised the Jamaican bobsled team. Credit: Disney

Though initially he strongly disliked the film when it was released, he has eventually come to like it.

Upon watching it with his kids, Stokes claims he gained a ‘whole new perspective’ on Cool Runnings.

“30 years later, it’s still a good watch,” he concluded.

Dudley Stokes is now setting up an Olympic base in Middlesbrough to train athletes and encourage fitness within local communities, businesses and schools.

He's also an absolute legend.

Topics: Winter Olympics, Sport, Money, Celebrity, TV and Film, World News

Tom Wood
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