Trinidad and Tobago bobsled team breaks through in Park City
They score landmark podium finish
Standing on the medal podium was unfamiliar territory for Trinidad and Tobago’s four-man bobsled team.
So much so that they weren’t sure if the Utah Olympic Park had a Trinidad and Tobago flag for them to stand in front of like the other athletes.
“We were wondering if they were going to have the flag because it’s literally never been used in bobsleigh before,” pilot Axel Brown said.
To their relief, there, in fact, was a Trinidad and Tobago flag to display during Wednesday’s awards ceremony. The biggest moment in the country’s bobsled history deserved a proper celebration.
Brown and teammates Adam Hames, Shakeel John and Xaverri Williams took home what they believed to be the first podium finish in bobsled in Trinidad and Tobago history during Wednesday’s four-man bobsled North American Cup event at the Utah Olympic Park, achieving a major milestone for Caribbean nations in the sport. South Korea, led by Jinsu Kim, and Pat Norton’s Canada team finished first and second, respectively.
“It means the world, honestly,” Brown said. “This is my ninth year in this sport. I’ve never stood on the podium before. So, to do that now, it was brilliant.”
Brown is no stranger to the sport of bobsled. He competed under the Great Britain flag for several years before switching to Trinidad and Tobago. Brown’s mother is from Trinidad and Tobago, and he says the change has given him more control.
“Having the autonomy for us to enter the races that we have earned a place in and be able to kind of conduct our team how we see fit has meant we can build a team that’s stronger than the component parts,” Brown said. “Because so often in bobsleigh, you’ve got four athletes that don’t know or get along with each other. Whereas, we’ve been able to build an actual team that truly care about each other.”
Brown transitioned to competing for Trinidad and Tobago in 2021, just months before the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“The transition was hectic because we had six months from me forming the federation to the Olympic Games,” he said.
Brown and Andre Marcano ended up qualifying for the Games in the two-man event, marking the country’s first appearance in the sport since 2002. They finished 28th out of 30 teams.
John replaced Marcano in the team’s third and final run due to injury. His athletic background was in track and field, but he ended up making his Olympic debut in bobsled.
“Last year has been great because I only started bobsled last October,” he said. “Being able to train and end up at the Olympics the following year, it was great representing the country after 20 years. It was an honor.”
Trinidad and Tobago has been coached by Lee Johnston, a former British bobsledder who also served as the head coach of the British team. He was previously disciplined for making derogatory comments about Black drivers in 2013.
“Lee is using actions to rebuild the reputation that was made in the press and to make our sport a more inclusive and diverse place, as that’s his true nature,” Brown said via text message. “I wouldn’t work with him if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe that.”
Johnston also sees a lot of potential in the Trinidad and Tobago program.
“All the boys actually run comfortably under 10.7, 10.6 for the 100 meters,” Johnston said. “And when you’ve got that kind of speed, we just need to develop their strength, their power and develop a little bit of technique in a bobsled.”
Heading into Wednesday’s event, the Trinidad and Tobago bobsled team had already enjoyed a successful stop in Park City. Brown piloted the two-man team to two fourth-place finishes on Friday and Saturday, and the four-man team came in fourth on Tuesday. But on Wednesday, they finally broke through and finished in third.
“We’ve come in fourth in the last three races, and we’re over the moon with fourth,” Brown said. “It’s the highest result (Trinidad and Tobago) has had. We’re so happy to have finally stood on the podium and had the Trinidad flag behind us.”
Brown has also seen how much the country has supported them in such a short time.
“What’s stood out is the support that we’ve had from Trinidad and Tobago and from our fans has been words of thanks,” Brown said. “Ultimately, we’re in the sport to try and succeed, to try and do our own goals, so for it to mean stuff to other people has been the most rewarding thing.”
John expressed the same sentiment.
“Thank you for the support, the love that you guys continue to give us,” John said. “We always try to do our best each and every race, no matter what. And we just keep trying to go up each level to the top spot on the podium.”
But being a bobsled team from Trinidad and Tobago has its challenges. As much as they are thankful for the support from their home country, it’s an expensive sport. On Wednesday, they were riding in a Team Israel four-man sled.
“We have our own two-man,” Brown said. “If we can get some sponsors, get some backing to get our own four-man, we’ve shown today what we can do in a borrowed sled. Imagine what we can do in our own sled.”
The Trinidad and Tobago bobsled team isn’t done in Park City quite yet. They said they’ll be back at the Utah Olympic Park for next weekend’s World Cup. It’s another important milestone for them.
“We think it’s another record, we think it’s (Trinidad and Tobago’s) first World Cup,” Brown said. “We’re excited to be back with the world’s best like we were at the Olympics and to kind of show that Trinidad’s here, but we’re also competitive.”
They know they’ll be massive underdogs against the best teams in the world. But for one day, they were on top of the world.
“I’m losing my voice from shouting coming up the brakes,” Brown said. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to talk right tomorrow, but a small price to pay.”
The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games by late January had reached what are known as venue-use agreements with two-thirds of the potential competition venues to host sporting events if a Games is awarded.
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