Former Sheffield Hallam University student helps Jamaica's bobsleigh team qualify for Beijing Winter Olympics

It's bobsleigh time for a former Sheffield student who helped Jamaica to a historic Winter Olympics qualification, conjuring memories of the iconic film Cool Runnings.

Thursday, 20th January 2022, 2:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th January 2022, 2:28 pm

Ashley Watson only completed studying for an MSc in physiotherapy at Sheffield Hallam University in December but is set to represent the Caribbean island in Beijing next month as part of a four-man bobsleigh team after they snatched the last available spot in the 28-team field.

Read More

Read More
Life of a journeyman boxer - Sheffield's Lee Connelly on why he battles on despi...

It will be the first time Jamaica has fielded a four-man team in 24 years – and it also marks the first time the country has qualified in three Olympic bobsleigh events: four-man, two-man and women’s monobob (a single-person bobsleigh).

Sign up to our daily newsletter

"At the moment it feels a bit surreal,” said 28-year-old Ashley, who began studying in Sheffield in January 2020 and lived in the Ecclesall Road area.

"It means a lot. We are here to make the country proud and inspire the new generation. It’s massive, it’s a great honour.”

Ashley, from Peterborough, qualifies to represent Jamaica through his dad Derrick, who was born and raised there.

He is currently training in Bath with the other members of the country’s bobsleigh team.

Former Sheffield Hallam University student Ashley Watson helped Jamaica to a historic Winter Olympics qualification in bobsleigh.

Since qualifying they have received messages of support from legendary Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, as well as actor Leon Robinson, who played Derice Bannock in the 1993 Disney classic.

The Jamaican bobsleigh team became world famous as a result of their exploits in the 1988 games in Calgary, with Cool Runnings loosely based around their story.

"It’s incredible,” added Ashley, “it’s breathtaking.

"I would love to get the best results Jamaica’s ever had. The best-ever four-man Jamaican team came fourteenth (in 1994) but I want to beat that.

Ashley, second from right, and the other members of Jamaica's four-man bobsleigh team.

"I don’t want to go to the Olympics just to be there. I would love a top-10 finish. I definitely want to be in the best Jamaican team in the history of bobsleigh.”

There have been plenty of references to Cool Runnings since the news of their qualification broke on Monday – with Ashley able to see the funny side.

"It set us up really well,” he said, “because of the movie a lot of people now know about Jamaican bobsleigh.

"You have to give props to the movie, however we have got the slogan ‘We are more than just a movie’.

"We want to go out to perform. We want to get a really good result. We are more than just that movie but we will carry on the culture.”

Ashley, who previously represented Great Britain in bobsleigh, is not the only Jamaican athlete with links to Sheffield.

Last year Solomon Maragh from Millhouses became the first-ever Jamaican to represent his country in canoe slalom, aged just 16.

The engineering apprentice, who also has Olympic aspirations, used Millhouses Park Boating Lake to hone his skills during the first national lockdown while practice facilities were closed.

Ashley added: “I really loved Sheffield, I love everything about it.

"Where I’m from you won’t really get people coming up to you in the street saying: ‘How are you doing?’, everyone was polite and nice. I kind of fell in love with the city.”

The four-man bobsleigh event begins on Saturday, February 19, with the medals decided the following day, on the last day of competition at the Games.