Olympics 2008 News
Cool Runnings 2.0: Panama set for Olympic bobsleigh in 2014
By Frank Kastner Feb 29, 2012, 2:01 GMT
Lake Placid, New York - The tropical central American country of Panama aims to compete in the 2014 Olympic bobsleigh competition in a story which appears to be a remake of the Jamaican sensation from the 1988 Games.
Swiss lawyer Christoph Zollinger readily admits he had the amazing Jamaican story, later adapted in the Disney-movie 'Cool Runnings,' on his mind when he got infected by the sport after hurtling down the St Moritz track in a tourist bob two years ago.
Zollinger happens to live in Panama and have the nation's citizenship. He is now in the process of bringing a team to the Sochi Games, with former Swiss world champion Hans Hiltebrand to assist in the project named 'Spirit of Panama.'
Hiltebrand warmed to the idea and his all-round expertise is invaluable. After all, the 67-year-old has also worked as coach, team boss and bobsleigh constructor.
'I had originally planned to retire. But the idea to compete with Panama at the Olympics was very tempting, especially because it was approached in a very serious way,' Hiltebrand told dpa at the recent world championships in Lake Placid.
Once Hiltebrand, who coached Canadian Pierre Lueders to Olympic gold in 1998, gave the nod to be on the team, Zollinger graguated as a bob pilot and went to look for a breakman and other members.
He contacted the nation's athletics federation and local television supported a casting show which brought together 85 athletes including members from a special forces police unit in September.
Distance running, sprints and throws were on the casting agenda, along with long jump - never a bad idea in a country boasting the discipline's world and Olympic champion Irving Saladino.
Panama's second best long jumper, 25-year-old Jonathan Romero, is now on the team along with Arsenio Caballero (29), Eduardo Fonseca (25) and Andreas Rodriguez (27), the latter the national 100m and 200m champion.
Just as in Cool Runnings, start simulation took place in Panama City's athletics stadium with a bob on wheels.
The necessary organizing and paperwork was also done: founding of a bobsleigh federation and getting the licences from the ruling bobsleigh federation FIBT and International Olympic Committee.
A trailor with Romero and Zollinger has become an internet sensation, they had training runs in St Moritz, Innsbruck and Lake Placid, and have by now competed in five official events to rise to 55th place from 98 ranked teams. Fonseca and Caballero have also started competing together.
Zollinger and Hiltebrand are very serious about the project and know that everything has to fall into place next season in order to make it to Sochi, be it finding sponsors to finance the budget of 200,000 euros (268,000 dollars) and to compete in the World Cup next season.
Not that it was always easy, as Hiltebrand recalls.
'There were setbacks,' he said. 'Romero had never seen snow before. No joke, he was shaking because of the cold.'
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