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Jamaican bobsledders are real characters

First, you need to know the truth. This is where the movie Cool Runnings stuck to the facts:

There was a bobsled team from Jamaica.

The 1988 Olympics were in Calgary.

It was cold.

Except for that, you can write off the movie as whimsical fancy, an idea begun by the truth but certainly not married to it. The net result was a story about a team that let nothing get in its way. Especially the facts.

Yes, it was a funny movie. Yes, it had charm. Yes, it was a nice little story.

Heck, it was almost as good as what really happened.

They are back, you know. The real thing. The real team. The real joy that has always followed them down the bodsled track.

There is no John Candy character here. There never was. There is no bald slider calling himself Yul Brynner. Never was. There is no brakeman freezing off his dreadlocks in an ice-cream truck. Never was.

"That's just in the movies, you know?" The laughter of Chris (Nelson) Stokes bounces off the walls. "It wasn't a factual movie. If they had filmed what really happened, it would have been a better work of art. But it probably wouldn't have been as commercially successful."

Supposedly, Cool Runnings was based on fact. Don't believe it. For Disney Studios to play with the truth any more, it would have had to had the four bobsledders win the gold, find love and abort an attempted terrorist attack on the Games. From the title to the credits, Cool Runnings was fiction.

And the worst part of it was that it covered up a pretty good story along the way.

The facts, revisited:

Eight years ago, a pair of American businessmen living in Jamaica watched a rollercart race and noticed that it resembled a fair-weather version of bobsledding. So, two years before the Olympics, George Fitch and William Maloney (no, neither was a Canadian gold medalist who had been caught cheating and then gained 200 pounds) began to look for a bobsled team.

They found four people, including brothers Chris and Dudley Stokes (no, their father was not an Olympic gold medalist). They were joined by Devon Harris, who wasn't bald, and George White, who didn't trip anybody at the track and field trials.

The team was formed and went to Dallas to practice (no, it didn't show up for the first time in Calgary and discover snow). It did have trouble with equipment, with clothing, with funding, with practice time (no, they didn't practice in the bathtub). They did better than expected (no, they were never in eighth place, or in medal contention).

"Disney wasn't trying to tell our story," Chris Stokes said. "They were trying to tell a story that would make a good movie."

Maybe. But if Hollywood made the John Lennon story, would it surround him with three guys named Buck, Slim and Morty? License is one thing; recreating reality is something else.

The bobsledders, who frankly needed the money, aren't complaining. But Chris Stokes said that, yes, there are times it becomes a problem.

"It's really tough on the kids," he said, laughing again. "They come up and ask who the brakeman is, and they're disappointed when they find out it's me. The man in the movie is a lot shorter than me and funnier. I don't have dreadlocks, and I don't kiss an egg.

"I'm famous as an entity, not as an individual. It's all right."

Now, there might be work on a sequel. Although the Jamaicans now consider themselves world-class competitors, they still have their occasional struggles. In last week's two-man competition, they were disqualified for being overweight.

There are competitors to the next odd coupling of bobsled and country, however. Although the Olympics have raised standards for competitors _ the rational being, "How many Eddie the Eagles do we really need?" _ bobsled remains the last bastion of the athlete simply looking for a way into the Games.

For instance, a brief index of some of the bobsled competitors:

Armenia _ If you are geographically impaired, perhaps you aren't quite sure where Armenia is. From the looks of the Armenian bobsled team, it must be somewhere near Boston.

Ken Topalian and Joe Almasian are Americans. Both, however, had grandfathers who lived in Armenia. Together, they spent about $20,000 to get to Norway.

Monaco _ The driver is a guy named Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Marquis des Baux, and you might have seen him on a stamp. He's also known as the Prince of Monaco, and he's back for his third Olympics.

Puerto Rico _ One of the members of the Puerto Rican team is Liston Bochette. He's from Fort Myers.

American Samoa _ The driver is Faauuga Tia Muagututia, a member of the Navy Seals. "It's probably not as scary as jumping out of an airplane," Muagututia said.

There are other teams hovering around in the two-man and four-man events. There is a team from Greece, from San Marino, from the Virgin Islands, from Latvia.

Still, however, the Jamaicans are kings of the unusual. Their sweat shirts are still found, and the movie has made their following international.

"I don't feel famous," Chris Stokes said. "I still feel like a third-world athlete trying to compete.

"But it was a fine movie, don't you think?"