Cool Runnings or Sled God Millionaire

Ash Isaac

Cool Runnings

A Jamaican bobsled team? Now… I know what you’re thinking. Surely some mistake? Surely it’s about as likely as a Taliban beach volleyball team or perhaps a synchronised swimming team made up of cats. Well, scoff no more, disbeliever! This, based-on-true events, (kind of), fish out of water story brings a life-affirming tear to the eyes of cynics everywhere.

As with all underdog stories it begins with our hero face down in the dirt watching someone else fulfil his lifelong dream. Derice Bannock, (Leon), wants nothing other than to emulate his father as a Gold medal-winning Olympic athlete. Disaster strikes at the Jamaican sprinting trials when he is tripped by a clumsy lolly-gagger, (Junior), in the adjacent lane. The klutzy Junior also conveniently takes out another athlete, the aptly named Yul Brynner. All three of them hit the floor just in time to watch Usain Bolt cross the finishing line and going on to perform the Mobot.

Bannock is one of those gratingly optimistic, persistent and tenacious people who decides that if at first you don’t succeed, try the Winter Olympics. Despite never having seen a bobsled, snow or ice, he believes a few months training will be sufficient to qualify him to compete with elite level athletes. Only in a Disney film. Junior and Brynner also decide to sign up to the idea of being hurtled down an icy chute at speeds of up to 80 mph in what is essentially a giant hollowed-out bullet. Completing the four man team is champion kart-racer and passionate egg-lover, Sanka, (Doug E. Doug).

The newly-christened team need a bob sled coach, but where to find one on the sunny island of Jamaica? Step forth John Candy who plays the rambunctious mentor, (Irv Blitzer), to the ragtag bunch of misfits. He’s mean, he’s grumpy, he is literally too large for life; this was the Candyman’s last film role before sadly passing from a massive coronary. Once upon a time Blitzer had the radical notion of sprinters possessing the natural fundamental skills to become proficient bobsledders. He finally has the opportunity to put his theory into practice at the trials in Calgary.

But not everyone is happy about this unlikely sporting enterprise. Wherever the team go they become objects of scorn and ridicule. People stare. People point and laugh. In Calgary, the East Germans tell them to go home and not embarrass themselves. Even Bannock begins to doubt the wisdom of his unrelenting quest. An unexpected source of inspiration rouses him from his ennui: the Swiss. In military terms the Swiss are about as useful as chocolate toothpaste, but in sledding terms they are as slick and surgical as, well, a Swiss army knife.

Mimicking the Swiss sledding technique allows Bannon and co to put in a respectable turn in the trials and qualify for the main event. But eventually he sees that to succeed, you have to remain true to yourself and not bow to imitation or conformity. Awww. The film’s climactic scene sees the Jamaicans crash out of the final race in the midst of putting together a record-breaking time. In true triumph-against-adversity style, the team complete the race by carrying the sled to the finish line and are promptly disqualified for not understanding the basic theory behind bobsledding.

Being a Disney film, if you look closely you can see that most of the characters are all based on animals taken from other Disney films. Bannock is Simba from the Lion King, Brynner is Bagheera from the Jungle Book, Junior is Bambi and Sanka is that annoying lobster from The Little Mermaid.

Ok, so in real life, everyone loved having Jamaica there, even the East Germans. And they didn’t actually qualify for the final, crashing out in the qualifiers. But Cool Runnings isn’t about truth, justice or the Jamaican way. It’s about embarking on a journey, travelling outside your comfort zones, pushing the envelope; and then, when it all breaks down, finishing the race to a slow clapping that rises to a stirring crescendo. Hakuna Matata.

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.