Lake Placid, NY – The year was 1988. The Winter Games were in Calgary. Western Canada would be the most unlikely place where a group of Jamaican track and field athletes would gain notoriety as bobsledders. Yet those Games produced one of the Olympics most endearing stories, one that lives to this very day thanks to four committed athletes, their forcefully supportive manager and a movie appropriately titled Cool Runnings.
The 1993 flick added to the luster of comedic actor John Candy, and by way of his work at those Games with ABC Television, local resident John Morgan as well. Now, with a continuing 35-year legacy, Cool Runnings will be shown at the Palace Theater in Lake Placid on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. in the opening feature of the Lake Placid Film Festival. A question and answer period will follow. There will be an encore performance on Saturday morning, Oct. 28 at 11:30 a.m. Jamaican bobsled team merchandise will be available for purchase at the theater.
The show, celebrating its 30th anniversary, will be hosted by Morgan as well as Chris Stokes, current president of the Jamaican bobsled federation. His brother Dudley Stokes, now 61, was the driver of that heralded four-man sled. Chris, on a track scholarship at the University of Idaho, got the call just 10 days prior to the Games. He went on to compete in four Winter Games and has remained involved as a coach over the years. Chris Stokes, likewise, was a sprinter on the Idaho track team.
In Jamaican lore, Cool Runnings translates to “peaceful journey,” which is more about the vibe of the people and not so much those first crash-prone rides in Calgary.
“Sanka, you alive,” asked a hopeful sled-mate to driver Sanka Coffie after one spill.
“Ya, mon,” was Coffie’s reply. For this four-man crew, it was just another peaceful journey.
Although their efforts to battle against the dominant European teams seemed to always send the Jamaicans uphill, their unbreakable spirit, fostered by Candy’s character past Olympian Irving Blitzer, brought them great support from the rest of the world. The movie’s legacy, and that message, resonates to this day.
Of note, Jamaica continues to train each winter in Lake Placid, spending a significant amount of time on the Mt. Van Hoevenberg track. Although the cast of characters is now different, the theme, as coined by Coffie, the fictional driver, has never changed.
“Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme. Get on up! It’s bobsled time!”
Cool Runnings, Candy’s final film released in his lifetime, debuted in American theaters on October 1, 1993, issued by Buena Vista Pictures. Critics gave it high marks for its humor, tone, and performances. The film grossed nearly $155 million worldwide.
Jimmy Cliff penned the movie’s theme song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” which reached number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Photo at top: Adirondack Film website photo.