Jamaica's underfunded underdogs are going back to the Olympics—and this time their trip is backed not by wealthy businessmen but by a legion of generous Internet fans.
Bobsled driver Winston Watts and brakeman Marvin Dixon qualified for the Sochi Games, but their entry was in jeopardy after they came up $80,000 short of the funding needed to make the trip.
Enter the Internet.
Crowdfunding sites Crowdtilt and Indiegogo took up the Jamaicans' cause, hauling in six figures in just two days from donors around the world (the original fundraising deadline was nine days). "The outpouring of support at the grassroots level through crowdfunding sites was tremendous and humbling," said Chris Stokes, a member of the 1988 team that inspired the movie Cool Runnings and the current head of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation.
Perhaps most unusual—$30,000 of the crowdfunding dollars came from Dogecoin, an online "cryptocurrency"—the same concept as bitcoin—that's based on the popular doge meme. The Dogecoin Foundation gave 27 million of its digital units to the Crowdtilt campaign. The currency created late last year calls itself the most-traded digital currency and pegs its value at $0.0018 per doge.
"It's humbling to see people get together and do something so positive on the Internet, and if we can promote that spirit through Dogecoin then I think our mission is complete," said Jackson Palmer, the currency's cofounder.
The online support, said Watts, adds to the team's motivation. "[The donors] have a trust in us, because they know that Jamaica—we have some of the best athletes in the world," he said. "They want to see us dominate winter sports as well. They have put a big trust in us; they want to support us."
Watts, 46, is ending nearly a decade of retirement to bring Jamaica its first Winter Olympics appearance since 2002. "It's been a rocky road, hard road, to get where we are right now," he said. The donations will help the team get the equipment upgrades it needs, specifically the sled runners, to be competitive with their better-funded competitors.
"Every now and then we see the connection that Jamaica bobsled makes with … individuals around the world," Stokes said, citing the enduring popularity of the 1993 movie. "People relate to Jamaica bobsled and what it means.… There are people contributing to the program who were not born in 1988."