The Jamaican women’s bobsled team already faced tremendous odds at achieving anything close to a medal at this year’s Winter Olympics, and now its challenge has gotten that much more arduous: Sandra Kiriasis, the team’s German driving coach, has quit only days before competition was set to begin at the PyeongChang Games.
According to the BBC, team officials asked Kiriasis to change her role from driving coach to track performance analyst. She refused, as it would have meant she would have no access to team members Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian and Carrie Russell, who comprise Jamaica’s first Olympic women’s bobsled team and are the first women from Jamaica to compete at the Winter Games.
“Sandra Kiriasis has elected not to continue her position. We are deeply disappointed in her decision to leave the programme,” Jamaican bobsled officials said in a statement. “We thank her for her invaluable contribution and contributing to the success of Jamaica’s first female bobsled Olympic appearance.”
Kiriasis, who won women’s bobsled gold at the 2006 Turin Games and silver four years earlier in Salt Lake City, became the team’s driving coach late last year.
“I have never known such disappointment in this sport, in my life,” she told the BBC. “The athletes have told me they don’t understand why this has happened as they have no problem with me and we have a good relationship.”
According to multiple reports, Kiriasis owns the sled being used by the Jamaicans. Should she decide to take it away from them, it likely would require them to withdraw from the competition (team officials denied to Tariq Panja of the New York Times that it plans to pull out).
“The whole situation is a complete mess. This will have an effect on the Jamaican team, whether because they have lost their world-class coach or both coach and equipment,” John Jackson, a former pilot for Great Britain’s bobsled team, told the BBC. “The most important race in a lifetime could be jeopardised by the internal bickering within the Jamaican Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation.”
The men’s bobsled team from sun-soaked Jamaica earned notoriety 30 years ago by competing at the Calgary Winter Olympics, a story that became the heavily fictionalized 1993 Hollywood movie “Cool Runnings.”
Olympic women’s bobsled teams begin their training heats this weekend. The actual competition begins with the first two runs Tuesday, and medals will be awarded after the final two runs Wednesday.
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