Real-Life Cool Runnings Bobsled Captain Got Almost Nothing From The Movie

The captain of the famous Jamaican bobsled team from the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, which inspired the classic film Cool racesrevealed that he got almost nothing out of the film, but did not regret the story told.

In fact, Dudley Stokes is glad the movie ended up being made, as it seemed extremely unlikely that their story – even altered – would ever make it to the big screen.

Stokes told LADbible, “It was by no means clear that this movie would get made or make money.

“I certainly didn’t believe it, I couldn’t see how people could make a movie out of the ridiculousness of the 1988 crew, it was my deep feeling, it was a waste of time.

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

Dudley Stokes had a long career in bobsledding.

Despite these concerns, the film has been made and fans have been enjoying it for over 30 years now.

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

More on that later, though.

Stokes and his team became the inspiration for one of the most famous sports movies of all time, but they didn’t become millionaires overnight because of the film’s success.

He explained, “No, I didn’t earn any money. I learned hard life lessons.

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

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

“Although it’s done for 15 million dollars [and it] grossed $157 million worldwide, that’s what’s reported, it’s still in a loss-making position.

“They have many ways to accomplish this in Hollywood through accounting, which they are allowed to do.

“So, no – from that perspective – it wasn’t a commercial success for me, but it opened a lot of other doors for me 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

While the 1993 film is an absolute classic, the real story is completely different and no less compelling.

Of course, there are no lucky eggs in real history, but there may have been times after a crash in a fateful race where competitors might have thought to wonder: ” are you dead ? “.

The team was the first-ever Jamaican team to compete in the Winter Olympic Bobsled.

After breaking barriers in 1988, Stokes competed in three more Games thereafter, becoming the fastest black male bobsleigh pilot in history.

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

Their campaign to reach the starting line was fraught with difficulties as competitors and coaches left the team stranded.

Their inexperience saw their first day on the Canadian site become a “real comedy show” – as Stokes puts it – and it looked like they wouldn’t improve.

Remember that mistakes made at high speed on slippery ice can have deadly consequences.

The Jamaican team parade at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Credit: Alamy
The Jamaican team parade at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Credit: Alamy

On the second day, Stokes woke up with a fever and even fell on the ice, fracturing his collarbone before they started.

“90 seconds later we were on the ice [again]“, he continued, “We had the seventh fastest start in the competition, but we got off to a bad start in the luge.

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

“By the time we got to the turn, I was ‘behind the sled’, which means I wasn’t steering at the right time.

“We started porpoising [wobbling]and when the curve ended the sled was going up and it flew up and crashed on my head.

“It started with 28 seconds – 2,000 feet – of varying emotions.”

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

Stokes continued: “Miraculously I was unharmed.

“My thoughts were ‘not in the Olympics, because now I’m collapsing in front of a billion eyeballs’.

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

“I hit my head twice more and realized 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 formed in him during his days behind the controls of a fighter jet in the Air Wing of the Jamaica Defense Force.

His unusual cooling off period 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 paramount in my mind,” he said.

“There was nothing I could do after making those decisions and being in that position, that’s what it was.

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

After mistakenly imagining their Olympic mission had been a failure, Stokes suffered from depression after the games, relying on his physical training to help him through a “sad, dark place” where he experienced feelings of “desperation and failure”.

Still, the welcome they received back home in Jamaica was warm.

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

Stokes said: “It’s a unique achievement, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud to go there and the marker we put down.

“[In Lillehammer in 1994] we finished 14and in total we were 10and in two of the four races, it was the best performance by a non-traditional nation and the best result by a black rider in Olympic history to date.

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

'Cool Runnings' immortalized the Jamaican bobsleigh team.  Credit: Disney
‘Cool Runnings’ immortalized the Jamaican bobsleigh team. Credit: Disney

Although he initially didn’t like the film at all when it was released, he ended up liking it.

Watching it with his children, Stokes says he gained a “whole new perspective” on Cool races.

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

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

He is also an absolute legend.


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