Howard Siler dies at 69; Olympic bobsledder coached Jamaican team

Howard Siler, an Olympic bobsledder and coach of a Jamaican bobsled team, died at age 69 in Clermont, Fla. He placed fifth in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Reporting from Orlando — Olympic bobsledder Howard Siler didn't much appreciate the way he was portrayed by John Candy in the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings."

Candy acted his part as a fumbling, washed-up rube who sought redemption by coaching four ice-wary Jamaican athletes to compete as an Olympic bobsled team.


"He was disappointed that Disney decided to make the movie a sort of comical situation as opposed to how serious their accomplishments were," said his wife, Debra Shea Siler. "There were scenes that made them look cutesy, silly.

"Howard said the guys were fun and easygoing, but they were serious, which is the reason he accepted the job. And they were committed with more heart and soul than any athlete he ever coached."


Siler, a retired insurance executive, died July 8 at his home in Clermont, Fla. He was 69 and had been diagnosed with cancer a few months ago.

A nine-time national champion who competed with the Lake Placid Bobsled Club, Siler won a bronze medal in the four-man event at the 1969 World Championships. He participated with the U.S. Olympic team in the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, and the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. His best Olympic finish was fifth place at Lake Placid, as driver of the Americans' No. 2 two-man sled.

"You know, they say a bobsled driver can't ask for much in life," Siler told the Washington Post in 1980. "When you jump in that seat, you only know two things for certain. The traffic's all one way. And if you crash, at least you won't burn."

Siler was later recruited to coach an inexperienced group of Jamaican bobsledders at the Calgary Games in 1988.

He eventually agreed and was pleasantly surprised by the athletes' determination.

"The athletes are not the problem," Siler told the Chicago Tribune. "They just need the equipment, experience and facilities."

The Jamaican team qualified for the Olympics, but it was not in the running for a medal.

Born June 18, 1945, in Newport News, Va., Howard Benford Siler Jr. served in the Air Force and had a career as an insurance agent.


Along with his wife of 17 years, Siler is survived by three daughters, six grandchildren and two sisters.

Spear writes for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune newspaper.