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Olympics

‘Cool Runnings’ 2.0: Morgan State graduate Rolando Reid realizes Olympic dream as member of Jamaican bobsled team

Rolando Reid will make his Olympic debut. It just won’t happen in the sport he initially thought.

Reid, who won gold in track and field at the 2015 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships as a member of Morgan State’s 1,600-meter relay team, will compete for Jamaica in the bobsled at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, which began Friday.

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The 2016 graduate, who earned a bachelor’s in economics, said he never dreamed of participating in the premier international sporting event in the bobsled.

“Had no clue I would,” he wrote via email as he traveled to China for the Olympics. “However, I started to believe in myself and my team once I started the journey.”

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He said his Olympic track and field dream had lasted “until injuries started to take a toll every single season from high school.”

Reid, a crewman who helps push the sled and celebrated his 29th birthday on Jan. 27, joins pilot Shanwayne Stephens and push athletes Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe to represent Jamaica in the four-man bobsled for the first time in 24 years. The island nation learned the good news Jan. 24 when the team had qualified for the final spot in the 28-sled field.

The event begins Feb. 18.

Morgan State coach Neville G. Hodge acknowledged that he chuckled when Reid told him he intended to try out for the Jamaican bobsled team.

“But then I realized that he has the power and the speed, and that’s what is called for in that sport,” Hodge said.

He said Reid returned last summer to Morgan State to train with the Bears track team.

“He’s the type of guy that when he puts his mind to something, he will accomplish it. I’m sure it was very challenging for them as a team, but just to get there speaks volumes. That’s an accomplishment where you say, ‘Boy, I wish I had one of those.’ That’s a tough sport. It’s a special thing to do.”

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Reid’s seeds in the bobsled did not take root until January 2019 when his brother, Peter Johnson, called Reid, who was living in Florida at the time, from his home in Jamaica and asked his older brother to help him train for bobsled tryouts. Reid agreed, then decided to try out, and was selected as a candidate.

Running on ice only since September, Reid acknowledged that he is still grasping the intricacies of the bobsled.

“I haven’t mastered any aspect of bobsleigh besides that of learning to survive, which I think is a single most important key to any sport,” he said.

“There were a lot of unfamiliarities. I just didn’t know how the sled moved and just didn’t grasp the concept that it is a gravity sport, but I have managed to pay key attention to those around me who had great knowledge of the sport. I became a student of the sport. A bobsledder is more than just an athlete. He or she is also a mechanic, amongst other things.”

As a push athlete, Reid must be strong enough to get a sled that can weigh almost 500 pounds going quickly. But he also must not carry any extra weight that could slow the sled’s ability to reach speeds of up to 80 mph during its run down the track.

While Stephens and brakeman Nimroy Turgott famously pushed a small car when they were isolating together in the United Kingdom at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the summer of 2020, Reid resorted to more traditional weightlifting and conditioning methods.

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“Train like a sprinter and lift like a thrower is the simplest way of putting it,” he said.

The Jamaican bobsled team was immortalized in Disney’s 1993 film “Cool Runnings,” which was loosely based on the nation’s debut in the event during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. Reid said no one on the team objects to links to that movie.

“The Disney era, as I call it, does have a great impact on the team today and should always,” he said. “It builds character and stands as a constant reminder of where we are coming from and how much we have achieved with very little resources when compared to other nations. As the movie illustrates, the hardship faced is by no means that much different now.”

Reid was a raw talent when he enrolled at Morgan State, Hodge recalled. He said he and his assistant coaches refined Reid’s stride so that his hips were more forward and his feet could strike the track with more power. He added that Reid absorbed every primer.

“Coaching him was a dream,” Hodge said. “He would come back and ask questions and do the extras. … You could get the kid to do anything you wanted him to do. Even when he was hurt, he was willing to put in the work to get better.”

Reid, in turn, credited Hodge and women’s coach Janice Smythe with shaping him as an athlete.

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“With them, I was able to achieve a lot on and off the track, lessons that I even carried over in my professional career today as a bobsledder,” Reid said. “I can hear Coach say, ‘Rolando, your first couple of steps have got to be quick. You can’t drag your feet like that and beat anybody.’ To be a Bear and to represent an HBCU was just an amazing experience, competing at the different championships such as the MEAC and NCAA [Division I] Regionals.”

In China, Reid and his Jamaican teammates will compete against powerhouse teams representing Germany, Canada and Austria. Jamaica’s best finish is 14th at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Reid said the current group is driven by memories of barely missing out on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“The team is pumped, especially after missing out on the last Olympic Games by one spot,” he said. “Fourteenth is correct, and we are looking to better that as we bring fire to ice. A top 10 finish is a goal in itself. It might be far-fetched, but with a good start and a well-focused pilot, I do believe it’s an attainable goal. A medal is for sure our ultimate goal.”

Hodge said Reid should serve as an inspiration to future athletes dreaming of participating in the Olympics.

“Most kids who run track are looking forward to saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to make the Olympic team [in track],’” he said. “And then all of a sudden if you don’t make that, then you’re in a foreign sport and you’re in the Winter Olympic Games? I know we are very proud of him. This is a big story.”


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