Daily Observer (Jamaica)

Thirty years of Cool Runnings

- BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer writer entertainm­ent@jamaicaobs­erver.com

LAST week marked the 30th anniversar­y of Cool Runnings, the hit movie based on the exploits of Jamaica’s bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada. Devon Harris, a member of that groundbrea­king quintet, said the Walt Disney-produced film has “aged well”.

Harris, who is now a motivation­al speaker in the United States, told the Jamaica Observer that he last saw Cool Runnings during a conference in Arkansas in 2022. He believes the comedy, which stars John Candy and Leon, immortalis­ed him and his teammates.

“I still feel the same way about the movie I felt 30 years ago when I first saw it. I thought it was a good human interest story, certainly the kind of movie I would have enjoyed had it not been about a part of my life. There are some really good life lessons in there; a comedy, yes, so it’s entertaini­ng but for the most part, shed a good light on the experience,” Harris said.

Harris, brothers Dudley and Chris Stokes, Michael White and Freddy Powell comprised the Jamaican squad at the Calgary Winter Olympics. As a team from a tropical country competing in wintry conditions with limited resources, they were a novelty and the topic of many feature stories.

Their heroic performanc­es in the four-man and two-man events made them stars in Calgary. Casting for a movie on their feats started two years later, with popular Canadian actor John Candy in the lead role as Coach Irving “Irv” Blitzer.

Leon, Doug E Doug, Malik Yoba, and Rawle D Lewis played members of a longshot bobsled team from the island, competing at a winter tournament.

The Kingston-born Harris recalled writers for the project meeting with members of the team in New York and discussing at length their preparatio­n and participat­ion at the Calgary Games. He said a totally different story played out Cast members of the Disney movie

Cool Runnings (from left) Doug E Doug, Rawle D Lewis, John Candy, Leon and Malik Yoba pose in front of a promotiona­l background during the press run for the hit 1993 movie, which paid homage to Jamaica’s historic bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

on the silver screen.

Harris added that he and his teammates were concerned that Jamaica, and Jamaicans, would be improperly represente­d in the movie.

“I think we all know that stereotype­s are always dangerous. For sure, none of us on the team, as far as I know, we didn’t smoke weed. The other stereotype is that Jamaicans are party animals and we are very laid-back, so those were major concerns,” he said.

Last week, Leon, Malik Yoba and director

Jon Turteltaub told Variety magazine that Disney executives wanted a movie based on those images. Leon said he vigorously objected to playing a “black Aladdin” while Turteltaub recalled Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg demanding lead actors use accents suited for the box office.

“He said, ‘if you can’t get these accents to where I can understand them clearly, I’ll find a director who can,” Turteltaub disclosed.

Filmed in Calgary, Kingston and Discovery Bay,

Cool Runnings had a budget of US$17 million, with veteran Jamaican actors Charles Hyatt and Winston Stona in small roles. It was a smash hit, making US$159 million at the global box office.

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