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Olympics ‘Un-cool Runnings’: The bizarre story of Jamaica’s bobsleigh team, an ex-coach and Red Stripe beer

Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian and Carrie Russell of Jamaica’s bobsleigh team in action.

ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS

The second coming of Cool Runnings was supposed to be one of the feel-good stories of the Olympics. Instead, the arrival of a Jamaican women's bobsleigh team at Pyeongchang has devolved into one of the most bizarre.

Days before the team was set to compete, it parted ways with its coach, sparking a bitter battle over who owned the sleigh they need to use, whether they would still be able to compete at the Olympics – and whether Jamaica's Red Stripe beer could save the day.

"It is unbelievable," said Sandra Kiriasis, the German bobsleigh champion who was until this week the coach of the Jamaican women's team. Jamaican women are competing for the first time at the Olympics 30 years after a Jamaican mens' team became international celebrities when they raced in Calgary (and in six subsequent Olympics, including Pyeongchang).

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But Ms. Kiriasis and the team are no longer together, after an acrimonious falling out that has descended into insults, hurt feelings and no clear account of what actually happened.

Those watching the spectacle unfold have dubbed it "Un-cool Runnings."

It was, until Saturday morning, an open question whether there would be any runnings at all for the team.

The Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation says Ms. Kiriasis "was not fired. She choose to leave the federation and quit," said Kathleen Pulito, a spokesperson.

But Ms. Kiriasis, who won silver in Salt Lake City and gold in Torino, says she was unceremoniously given the boot and even deported from the Olympic athletes village.

It "hurts my honour," she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "They say a lot of wrong things so that I look bad. But I'm not the bad person in this 'game.' "

Caught in the middle have been both the bobsleighers and their sleigh, which Ms. Kiriasis says is actually in her possession.

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When she and the team parted ways, Ms. Kiriasis gave Jamaica an ultimatum, she told Welt, the German newspaper, Thursday: pay me €20,000 for my services, or forget about using the sleigh.

The sleigh "is mine. I signed a contract," she told The Globe.

That's when Red Stripe came in, leaping into what has become a brilliant marketing opportunity for a brand that is controlled by Heineken but calls itself "We Are Jamaica."

Red Stripe made an offer on Twitter to buy the team a sleigh. "No bobsled, no problem. If you need a new ride @Jambobsled, put it on @RedStripe's tab," the company wrote.

It wasn't a joke. Red Stripe has already wired $62,300 to purchase the sleigh, a representative told Adweek. "You've got yourselves a new sleigh," the company tweeted early Saturday morning in South Korea.

The team was on the sleigh again less than 12 hours later. The Jamaicans finished a second official training heat in ninth (Canadian teams are in first and fourth).

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But the Jamaicans have used the sleigh "without my okay," Ms. Kiriasis said in the interview.

Not so, says Christian Stokes, the president of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation.

"We have bought the sled from the Winterberg Bob Club. So I am not sure how we could have stolen the sled from someone," he said in an interview.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Stokes told Reuters that Ms. Kiriasis "was a hugely destructive force on the team."

But "it's a non-issue now because we own the sled," he said. He said he did not know details of the purchase transaction; informed of his comments, Ms. Kiriasis, interviewed through a chat app, said she "can't believe it."

"The whole world thinks now [they're] riding with the Red Stripe bob – the big sponsor who has saved Jamaica. But this is not true!!!"

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The Jamaican women's team has heats planned again Sunday and Monday. The gold medal race is scheduled for Wednesday.

With a sleigh to race on, the team now hopes it can divert public attention from the theatrics and the beer company – and onto the sliding track.

"We will not be engaging in this back and forth drama pertaining to Ms. Kirasis," Ms. Pulito said.

"I will no longer respond other than about the athletes performance on race day. Thank you."

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