Cool Runnings is an American cult classic based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team—but most of it isn’t true. Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes, founding member of the team, answers questions on what really happened.
“Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time!” Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes, founding member of the Jamaican Bobsled Team and inspiration for the popular film Cool Runnings, surely disappointed a few people when, in the course of an “ask me anything,” or AMA, on Reddit, he denied ever having used that catchphrase to inspire his team while competing in the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, Canada.
Collins went on to reveal that Disney invented—or significantly embellished—most of the events in the movie. But he remains a proud supporter of the Jamaican bobsled team, who he hopes to cheer on in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Check out Stokes’s most interesting answers on the making of the moving, adapting to the winter weather, and how Jamaica is a surprisingly good place to train for bobsledding.
How long did you train before you entered the Olympics?
I first heard about bobsled and the sport of Jamaica in 87. I saw a bobsled for the first time in the middle of September. Walked on ice in October at an ice rink in Lake Placid. Got on a bobsled shortly thereafter and that February, we were in the Olympics.
Why didn’t you want your names in the movie?
That’s something of a misconception that seems to have developed. We didn’t have any objection to being cast in the movie, but I think the directors and the producers and ultimately Disney wanted actors, so we really didn’t have that as an option.
How did your experiences differ from the movie? Were you satisfied with the way you were portrayed?
It’s a feature Disney film, not much in it actually happened in real life, there were some things that were inspirational for the film. It is different than a documentary. It’s really served Jamaica bobsled very well.
“Feel the Rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time!” Did you guys actually say that in real life?
We didn’t do the ‘Feel the Rhythm, Feel the Rhyme’ thing.
We did adapt the German timing thing and made it our own. Each person had a different approach to preparing themselves.
Why bobsledding? Why not other sports?
I got into bobsledding because I was told to go. I was in the Army at the time. The Colonel made the suggestion to me and because I was a Captain, you do as your told and obey orders.
There were two Americans, George Finch and William Maloney who were big into push cart racing and thought it translated well to bobsledding. You mix that with the Jamaican athleticism and they thought it could work with some of our track athletes.
They couldn’t get anyone to actually do the sport, so they went to the Army and my Colonel. So that’s how I became involved in it. Once there, I was hooked.
What does your team mean to Jamaica? Or has meant since you first started?
Right now Jamaica is about Bob Marley, then Bobsled and now it is Bolt. The team didn’t put Jamaica on the map, but it kept it top of mind. Jamaicans are aware of this and it is a source of pride for me while traveling or when at home.
How realistic was Cool Runnings’ depiction of the adversity you faced from your fellow Jamaicans when you were starting the team?
We faced the uncertainty of funding because from the beginning we didn’t have much money. Then we focused on how to become competent enough in the sport with the goal of the Olympics. There’s the weather, which we had to become accustomed to, also competing physically in a cold environment and then there was the whole struggle for acceptance, to be seen as serious competitors.
The one scene that was pretty true was film scene, where the coach showed what bobsledding was like and only 3-4 people were left in the room.
What’s the Jamaican Bobsled scene like now? Are you involved still?
Yes I’m still involved with the team—President and part-time coach. Actually, we have a pretty good team this year with long-time veteran Winston Watt. They are in Calgary right now and training as we speak.
Is there/will there be plans to have Jamaica compete in the Winter Olympics again? If so, are you helping out with that?
I expect them to qualify for Sochi. Hopefully I’ll be cheering them on!
How does the team practice in your warm climate, does the team stay in other countries?
This is the interesting thing about bobsledding. Most teams would love to come to Jamaica to train and prepare. We have the perfect climate for speed and power training. It’s the speed and power for the start and the technique for the push. The pushing on the bobsled is a very technical skill that needs lots of practice.
What’s your very best life advice?
My best piece of advice is to find the superhero within you. There is one within everyone.
Between whatever happens to you and the response is a moment in time where every human being has the ability to exercise choice. What this ultimately means is that we determine the long term significance of every act.
In 1988, we crashed at 80MPH during the Olympics for the TV audience of 1 billion. It was very dangerous, could have been fatal, it could have made us the laughing stock of the world. In that moment we could have walked away all together that we were going to stick with this bobsled program until we were world class and that happened in six years, which was quite remarkable.
The key was that decision we made after the big event to stick with it.