Jamaica’s New Bobsled Team: Brought to You by the World’s Oddest Currency

The real-life version of “Cool Runnings” is going to the Olympics courtesy of crowdfunding — and it’s one weird crowd.

National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Jan. 21, 2014, 9:59 a.m.

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.”

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