Jamaica has never sent a women’s bobsled team to the Olympics. Jazmine Fenlator is hoping to change that in approximately 28 months.
The 2014 U.S. Olympian revealed exclusively to TeamUSA.org that she plans to compete for Jamaica moving forward with the goal of leading the island nation’s first-ever women’s bobsled team to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games and building a substantial women’s program for Jamaica that will live well past her career.
“I want to leave a mark by building something that inspires people,” said Fenlator, whose father, Cosman, is from Jamaica and mother, Suzie, is a New Jersey native.
“By coming from a large nation that has a lot of fortune, funding and success, I thought that I could use my skills, my talent to build my other nation, Jamaica, into a large platform for athletes from track and field and other sports to funnel and broaden their horizon of winter sports.”
The 30-year-old bobsled pilot initially thought up the idea after interning with the International Olympic Committee in June. She said she gained a new perspective on sport at a global level and of the need for more nations to compete, especially in niche winter sports.
“It’s a bigger part of just my success and my career, but I could really lift a nation that I have a huge tie of heritage to,” she said, acknowledging that she still has family there and plans to maintain her home base in the U.S. with fiancé and U.S. bobsledder Aaron Victorian, while traveling to Jamaica on occasion.
Fenlator, who piloted the USA-3 sled at the Sochi 2014 Games, said the goal of her move was not to leave the U.S. program, but rather to increase the diversity of the sport and to help Jamaica.
“I love this sport and I was to keep the diversity; I want to keep the competitiveness, I want to broaden the horizon so it’s not just the same five nations always competing, and the best way I felt I could contribute to that is to go to Jamaica,” Fenlator explained.
Last season, no more than 10 different nations competed in women’s bobsled on the world cup circuit, with as few as five competing at one of the stops.
In a move to increase participation in the sport and perhaps open up the possibility of four-woman bobsled in the future, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation voted on two rule changes in June: 1) starting in 2017, nations can enter a maximum of two sleds at the world championships and Olympics (as opposed to the three previously allotted to top nations), 2) the maximum weight for sleds and crew was reduced by 66 pounds, which will be phased in over the next two seasons.
Jamaica last had a women’s bobsled team competing on the world cup circuit in 2001, when Portia Morgan and Jennifer Cole finished 26th in Winterberg, Germany, abruptly ended their season due to injury and failed to qualify their country for the 2002 Olympics. Last season, the Jamaican women’s program was revived when KayMarie Jones and Salcia Slack entered the country’s first international race in more than a decade. They finished 13th out of 13 at a North American Cup in Park City.
Meanwhile, Fenlator’s experience and accomplishments for Team USA could help breathe life into an almost non-existent program. She has earned four world cup medals (three silvers, one bronze) representing the U.S. team and finished 11th at the 2014 Olympics. The Jamaican men’s team’s best finish since their debut in 1988 is 14th in the 1994 four-man competition.
Fenlator, a seven-year veteran of Team USA, was granted permission to be released from USA Bobsled & Skeleton earlier this month, which she says was the first of three steps required by the IBSF before she is permitted to compete for Jamaica. The second is proving her Jamaican citizenship (she is currently applying for citizenship through descent) and the final step is the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation requesting to add her.
Fenlator needed to submit her request to USABS by Oct. 1 to compete for her new nation this season and missed the cutoff by one day, but she is optimistic the international federation could make an exception and that she might be on ice representing the black, gold and green as soon as January 2016.
Once all paperwork is in place and she is given the green light, Fenlator will be able to compete on the world cup tour for Jamaica as she has previously met the requirements for world cup drivers (five races on three tracks), which she can hold on to for two years.
“I’m prepared to not necessarily compete this year, but to build my team, accrue funding that we need for the future, get sleds, develop brakemen, maybe develop a second women’s team,” she said, adding that she will rotate between the four North American tracks for her training. “At the latter part of my career, I also want to help fuel an appropriate funnel chain so that when I retire, there are still women being represented.”
As for recruiting brakemen, Fenlator plans to tap into the Jamaican military, where many of the men’s athletes have traditionally come from, and Jamaica’s steep pool of track and field athletes. She is already eyeing one athlete in particular for her sled.
“It would be ideal if I could have Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce on brakes, the queen of the sprints,” Fenlator said of the two-time reigning Olympic champion in the 100-meter. “I think I can convince her. She’s talked about bobsled, but the Jamaicans haven’t had a team. After Rio, that would be great – or at least get her to try it.”
Fenlator has experience assisting track and field athletes in the transition to bobsled. Her brakeman at the Sochi Games was two-time Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, and Fenlator herself was a track and field star at Rider University in shot put, discus and hammer, and was named one of the top 25 performers in the 25-year history of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
While still unsure how much funding the Jamaican federation will provide to its women’s program, she is preparing to self-fund much of her journey, at least in the beginning. She estimates the cost of one two-woman sled to travel and compete on the world cup tour and at the world championships – not including the cost of the sled and having a mechanic and coach – at $50,000.
Despite the unknowns of funding, equipment, coaches and more, Fenlator – who overcame losing her home to Hurricane Irene, supporting her mother through several health issues and working multiple jobs to make ends meet leading up to her Olympic debut – is ready for the challenge.
“I do think this is the next best step in my career and my journey, and I hope to leave a platform for the youth of our future and to increase participation and diversity within our sport.”