Jamaicans come to UOP to train
After breaking into the sport of bobsled during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, the Jamaican bobsled team became one of the most popular winter sports teams in the world.
But, the Jamaican teams, both men and women, have fallen on hard times neither group has qualified for an Olympic Games since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Though the 2014 Sochi Olympics are out of reach, NaTalia Stokes figured it was about time to get into the family business and try to end the Winter Olympic drought. The daughter of Nelson Stokes and niece of Dudley Stokes two members of the original Jamaican bobsled team that captured the hearts of sports fans across the globe in 1988, NaTalia piloted a bobsled for the first time on Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Utah Olympic Park.
Stokes said her father and uncle were both supportive of her desire to give the sport a shot.
"[My dad] was like, ‘OK, we’ll put you in a school,’" she said. "My uncle, who is also my coach, said, ‘You can go to Park City to the Olympic Park and stay there for the week, see how you like it first and we’ll go from there.’"
Confident after her first days of training Stokes hopes her path leads to the Olympics.
"First run loved it," she said. "It’s going really well."
Her brakeman, Audra Segree, is a track and field athlete in Jamaica. She’s trying to follow in the footsteps of U.S. track athletes Aja Evans and Lolo Jones as sprinters who have made successful transitions to bobsled.
After getting a brief taste of it last week at the Olympic Park, Segree said she’ll give the sport an extended look.
"It’s something I can say I want to do in the future," she said. "I’d like to keep on the bobsled track. After this week, I’m not going to drop it like that. I’m looking forward to continuing."
Dudley Stokes said he’s seen some good things from his niece and Segree already.
"I’m encouraged," he said. "This is a long journey don’t make any mistake about it. Becoming a good bobsled team takes time, it takes commitment and it takes desire. That’s really what we’re looking for in the young ladies how much they want to do this."
He thinks Segree, with her track pedigree, and Stokes, with her determination, are on the right track.
"I think she’s capable of the focus and capable of the work," he said of NaTalia. "She has a lot of natural gifts going for her."
Indeed she does. Halfway through the week of training, she hadn’t crashed yet, she noted.
"It’s a lot of mental work," she said. "More than I thought it’d be I thought it would be mostly physical. But you have to know what you’re going into in the curves and everything. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of work, but I’m really enjoying it."
As for the best advice she’s gotten from her coach, who piloted the team that crashed in the Calgary Olympics, she said she’s learned to never let mistakes keep her down.
"He keeps telling me that every day," she said. "If you crash, get back up."
So, when NaTalia’s first crash does inevitably happen, she said she won’t let it stop her from accomplishing her goal.
"Right now my major goal is focusing on Korea in 2018," she said. "In qualifying, I think I would make [my dad and uncle] proud. That would be my biggest goal."
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