Félix DUCHAMPT COMM 401 Sport and national identity 02/28/11 DR Pupchek

Cool Runnings

Before trying to understand aspects of national identity in the movie Cool Runnings, I will try to summarize the story in order to give you an idea of what it is.

Summary Cool Runnings is a 1993 comedy film directed by Jon Turteltaub. This movie is actually based on the true story of the Jamaica national bobsled team which started to compete in the bobsleigh event during the 1988 Winter Olympics Games, which took place in the city of Calgary, in Canada. Derice Bannock, a very good 100m runner, is getting ready to go to the 1988 Summer Olympics. He is one of the best in the country. But during the trials, he was tripped by Junior Bevil, another good runner. He fell down and lost the opportunity to go to the summer Olympics. Yul Brenner was another runner who was tripped at the qualifier by Junior. But Derice really wanted to go to the Olympics, whatever the event. Thus, he got then an idea. He approached Irving "Irv" Blitzer, a friend of his dad and American bobsled double gold medalist at the 1968 Winter Olympics, who finished first in two events again in 1972. But he was disqualified for cheating and retired to Jamaica. Derice asked him if he wanted to be the

coach of the new national team of bobsleigh, composed by himself, Junior, Yul, and his friend Sanka Coffie, a funny pushcart driving champion. Blitzer agreed. The foursome tried to find some ways to earn money to get in the Olympics. They sang, arm wrestled, kissed women, but nobody raised enough money. But Junior sold his car, and offered them the opportunity to have the budget to go to the Winter Olympics in Calgary. But in Canada, the team is looked down by other countries, in particularly the East Germans who told them to go back home. The team then kept training and improving their technique. They qualified for the finals, despite being briefly disqualified. The Jamaicans' first day on the track results in, once more, a last place finish. Everybody else was making fun of them. After stopping copying the other teams and developing their own style, they were better the second day; they finished eighth, clocking a fast time. The first half of the final day's race, others teams were then afraid of them. Everybody thought they could win. Until a bad thing happened: their sled, due to one of the blades falling off, flips on its side coming out of a turn towards the end of their run. They won’t be champion. However, the team lifts the sled up and walks across the finish line. People clap their hands for them, showing respect. Despite this event, the four boys and their coach felt accomplished enough to return in four years to the next winter Olympics. A brief epilogue states the team returned to Jamaica as heroes, and upon their return to the Winter Olympics four years later, they were treated as equals.

National Identity

As you understood, the movie is mainly about Jamaica and sport. Thus, we can understand the national identity of this country. But first of all, we should define what is a nation. In my opinion, a nation is constituted by two kinds of people. The ones who lived in the past and built the culture, habits, ways of thinking, ways of acting and stereotypes of this country, and the ones who lives right now, in the present, and keep living the same way. The oldest are in possession of a rich legacy of memories. The others have the desire to live together in this culture built by their ancestors, and they have to perpetuate the value of the heritage they received from them. Running is the national sport of this country. Jamaica is a land of runner. We can be a little bit more accurate, saying that track and field, and especially sprint distance, is the national sport. When Derice fell down, I can understand his frustration. Going to the Olympics in the national sport of your country must be something very important. It’s like a dream and you could be very proud of you. Especially because when you say national sport, it implicitly means that a lot of people want those few spots the country obtained for its athletes for the Olympics. I’m sure he trained so hard to achieve his goal and did a lot of sacrifices, as we can see at the beginning of the movie when he speaks with his wife but don’t really have a lot of time with his family because he has to run. The Olympics are just every four years, so missing once can mean you’ll miss Olympics forever, because you don’t know how your life will be 4 years after (injuries, family, motivation, etc). Representing his country at the Olympics is a big achievement, and not only your city but the whole country is supporting you. Even people from other countries can support you if you’re one of the best in the Wolrd and shows good values. At least, not only your country that is watching you, but the entire World. The Olympics are on TV in almost every country in the World, as this event is the most important one in the history of sport. You can be very proud after that.

It can seem weird, but pushcart is also an important sport there, whereas it doesn’t really exist in some countries, for example in Europe (I’ve never seen this kind of sport). And I think it’s not really known either in the US. In the movie, they showed us how it looks like, and even if it is like bobsleigh but in the summer, it’s hard to imagine Jamaican people on the ice. This is a stereotype emphasizes at the beginning of the movie. They don’t have bobsleigh, and they don’t even know what is exactly this sport. Jamaican are also portrayed as people pretty laidback (read as lazy), not taking life too seriously and not really knowledgeable about the outside world. They are also really cold when they are heading to Canada, and don’t adapt fast. On one side it’s good because people remember Jamaica with this movie. Honestly, when I speak about Jamaica with someone, one time out of two we are talking at one point or another about Cool Runnings. Everybody knows this movie. It had a great success. But on the other hand, it’s a kind of “joke”. I could understand when you speak with a Jamaican, about this movie, if he would be pissed and says like “please don’t make me look so bad”. Jamaica is a tropical country, and of course it’s understandable that winter sports are not kings in this country. Jamaican people had probably never seen the snow in their country. And the poster of the movie (you can see it below) also emphasizes this fact, with the questions “Jamaican bobsledders?” at the top. I don’t think it’s really flattering for the country, even if they succeed at the end of the movie.

But I think through the movie, the profile of those 4 guys from Jamaica evolves. As I said before, they look lazy at the beginning. They are pretty awkward and live the life as if the world ends tomorrow. But then, they showed people that effort and determination, in the pursuit of one goal, lead to success and achievement. After wiping a defeat in running, they found the resources to start again a new adventure. But this time, they started from nothing, and they have to construct everything in order to be competent. We don’t have to forget the political dimension of the movie either. This is the story of four funny dudes from Jamaica, but what is also their goal in the movie? At a different scale, each one of them wants to leave the island where they grew up, and try to reach an international success. In the movie, they are all criticizing Jamaica at one point or another, especially Yul, who is the meanest of the four. He blames for example the lack of ambition of Jamaica when he learnt he won’t be selected (as Derice or Junior) for the Summer Olympics when he fell

down. The grass is always greener somewhere else, as we can see it with Derice for example when he is in admiration seeing the Swiss Bobsled team and its four talented guys and a wonderful sled. We can also see with Junior the fear to face its own roots, as he refuses to say no to his authoritarian and bossy father. Sanka is maybe the only one in my opinion who did not show some envy to leave the Island. Basically, Derice engages in the team to excel and honor his father (who died before). Sanka follows him pretty much to support him. Junior seeks to redeem his fault toward Yul and Derice. Finally, Yul doesn’t really want to accept himself, but really wants to leave the country. He has a gestural in the movie which reminds me a little bit the rappers in the US. No one of them was born to become an athlete competing at the winter Olympics, and this rejection of their identity leads them to their fall. I think the producer wanted to show, through Jamaica, how hard it is to survive in this ferocious world for little countries: they are pretty “lost’ in this big world, and try to find success within big teams, without a real success. Although I think we can also see the determination, the motivation, the consistency and the envy to achieve a goal of those four guys, which I think it’s a very good point. Nobody can win an international competition in sport (and implicitly succeed a hard task) without training, determination, motivation and ambition. Another story in the movie is interesting, as national identity is concerned. Irving Blitzer, who cheated at the Olympics in 1972, is hated by the American team, the country for which he competed at the Olympics. US coaches and leaders didn’t want to lend him a bobsleigh, inventing wrong excuses for that. Whereas the real one was because they did not “digest” what Bitzer had done. Once in the movie, the Jamaican team was disqualified, without really knowing why. It was also because of their coach. That leads us to the fact that cheaters once are cheater forever, and whatever they are doing after their suspension, people keep treating them as cheaters and bad persons.

After some research about bobsleigh, I found an interesting part though. In one scene, one of Blitzer's former teammates, when he cheated, is talking to Derice about this scandal. He told Derice that Irving added weights to the sled to make it go faster. In the sport of bobsledding, adding weight to the sled is perfectly legal. Both two and four-man sleds have minimum and maximum weights. The weight of the sled is calculated as the total weight of the sled and its crew. If the fully loaded sled weighs less than the maximum, it is perfectly legal to add weight to make up the difference. So we don’t really know that in the movie but I think it was funny to bring this anecdote in the paper.

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