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Jamaican bobsled team reflects on unlikely journey to '88 Olympics

The original members of the Jamaican bobsled team look back on their underdog journey to Calgary in '88.
/ Source: TODAY

The dream of the Jamaican bobsled team began with a makeshift sled, a sun-baked concrete track and a distant hope of qualifying for the 1988 Olympics.

"I remember saying to myself, 'Nobody could ever get me to go on one of those things,''' original team member Devon Harris told TODAY. "That's crazy."

On Wednesday's installment of TODAY's "Where Are They Now?" series, Harris and fellow bobsledders Michael White and Chris Stokes reminisced about the unlikely story that made Olympic history and became the basis for the 1993 Disney hit "Cool Runnings."

The journey began when a pair of American businessmen living in Jamaica watched a pushcart derby race and got the idea to create a bobsledding team on the small island nation.

Once they had the blessing of Jamaica's Olympic association, they cobbled together a team through open tryouts and appeals to members of the military.

1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games
The four-man Jamaican bobsled team became a sensation at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. Getty Images

None of the athletes had ever seen a bobsled before. The team trained everywhere from the Jamaica Defense Force base to Austria to Lake Placid, New York, using borrowed equipment and makeshift training facilities, like grass and concrete tracks.

Incredibly, they qualified for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, where they became a sensation for their island vibes and underdog story.

After White and Dudley Stokes, Chris' brother, finished 30th in the two-man event, the team decided in the middle of the Olympics that they wanted to field a four-man bobsled team.

Jamaican Bobsled team (l-r) Michael White Dudley Stokes
Bobsledders Michael White, Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris and Frederick Powell.Getty

However, they were short one person, so they recruited Chris Stokes at the last minute.

"In three days, we taught him everything we knew about pushing a sled, because he didn't know that much,'' Harris told Dylan Dreyer. "We only needed three days."

On their third run of the competition, Dudley Stokes, who had injured his shoulder on an earlier run, lost control of the bobsled. The team went spinning down the track at 85 mph and crashed.

"It was a violent hit, and then this doesn't feel normal, you know?" Chris Stokes recalled.

Jamaica's bobsled team member Frederick
The team's perseverance through a violent crash in the four-man event endeared them to Olympic fans. Getty Images

The crash meant the team was disqualified, but they refused to give up. They got out of the sled and walked to the finish line as the crowd roared.

"That (crash) was the lowest point of the experience at that moment, and then they just lifted us up again,'' Harris said about the crowd. "They buoyed us."

All of them went on to compete in future Olympics and continue to support Jamaica's bobsled teams as the nation pushes for its first Olympic medal in the sport.

This year marks another milestone. The country's women's team will compete in the Olympics for the first time after qualifying for the Pyeongchang Games. The men's team, however, did not qualify.

"Jamaica bobsled is about overcoming incredible odds,'' said Chris Stokes, whose brother Dudley is working with the women's team.

"What they see in us is themselves. They're going, 'If they can do that, we can do that.'''

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.