Team qualified in just six months and set to challenge the world’s leading nations on a shoestring budget during lockdown.
A British and Trinidad and Tobago dual national who was born and bred in Harrogate, North Yorkshire is on the verge of making history at the Beijing Winter Olympics as the driver of the team’s two-man bobsleigh at the Games.
After seven months of legal hurdles, online research and networking to find a team, and a race to secure and ship equipment to the USA for qualification events, the British-backed team is now training for the competition against the world’s elite.
Twenty-nine-year-old Axel Brown is in the Chinese capital training with his new Trinidad and Tobago teammates after they qualified for the Winter Games with a seventh place finish in their maiden competition in the USA, the eight race North American Cup Tour in December.
The result secured a last gasp spot at the Winter Olympics for the former British colony and island nation that has only previously competed in the event three times and returns to the Games after a 20-year hiatus.
Brown, whose mother was born in Trinidad, admits he was inspired by the movie Cool Runnings, about the 1998 Jamaican bobsleigh team’s unlikely qualification for the Winter Games, and pulled together a £100,000 bid to restart Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic Bobsleigh Team in just seven months during lockdown.
The four-member team, made up of pilot Axel Brown, brakeman Andre Marcano and alternate Shakeel John, along with brake coach Thomas Harris; is currently in China training for the event having endured a grueling 76-hour series of officially chartered flights to meet all visa and quarantine requirements to ensure entry into the super-secure Beijing Games Village.
The team, which has been training in the USA and Canada ahead of the games, has been boot-strapping its bid for Olympic glory, travelling as cheaply as possible, staying in Airbnbs and buying second-hand sleds and other equipment from other national teams to make their comparatively tiny budget stretch all the way to China.
Axel Brown said:
After a number of years in the sport, I loved the idea of representing my mother’s home nation at the Olympics, and after some research online and many calls during lockdown, we found out that it might just be possible.
Our sponsors liked the romance of the idea and really got behind us, and we managed to recruit a team of athletes based in the US and Trinidad, as well as support from a former Great Britain Bobsleigh team mate to aid us with training regimes and we’ve beaten the odds to compete in Beijing for Trinidad & Tobago, which is an amazing honour.
We can’t expect to be the favourites, we’re running on a tiny fraction of the budget of the top national teams like Germany, Austria and Great Britain, who get government backing, but we have a great team with so much heart and pride. We are here working hard and we’ve got the chance to show what we can do, and love being the underdogs. We can’t thank everyone in Trinidad and the UK enough for working together during some tough times to make this possible.
Trinidad and Tobago’s British High Commissioner Harriet Cross, who coincidentally also comes from Yorkshire, said:
The creativity, bravery and can-do spirit of Axel Brown is real showcase for the talent which springs from Trinidad and Tobago as well as a clear example of good old fashioned Yorkshire grit. When you put the two together, you get something really special. I will be cheering on the team and look forward to celebrating their success.
Brown, a former American College Football player, discovered the sport of bobsleigh while studying at Colorado State University in 2013 and 2014. After his return from the States, he was a team Great Britain Bobsleigh brakeman for five years, then had two seasons as pilot for Great Britain before deciding to undertake the challenge of re-forming the Trinidad and Tobago team with the help of his family and sponsors.
Brown hired a legal team in Trinidad to secure the permissions required to fund and enter the Olympic bid for the country, and then set about networking to find the best athletes available to train and compete in the qualifying rounds.
In order to save money, the team mates even had to do the DIY required to renovate a 20-year abandoned bobsleigh training facility at Camp Hill in Yorkshire that was once used by Team GB, allowing them to practice pushes and starts without an eight-hour round trip to the only other facility available in the UK at Great Britain Bobsleigh’s Bath training facility.
Axel Brown said:
We’ve just done what we had to, to make things work, and when people hear what we’re trying to do, they may have thought we were nuts, but they all wanted to help us make it happen.
The first training runs have been stunning, we love the track that has some never-before-seen aspects for the sport, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to even compete on a course like this. Technically it’s the most advanced in the world for sure, there are sections that run through the stadium and it’s such a shame that an amazing track built for spectators like no other ever has been, won’t have a single spectator there in person.
The reception in Trinidad and Tobago itself has been incredibly welcoming. From high ranking officials, to taxi drivers, athletes to fans, everyone has been excited to see themselves represented and to know that they now have a route into a sport that they would otherwise never have thought was a possibility.
Competing in the North American Cup, on several occasions we were ‘best of the rest’ with only the home countries of USA and Canada topping us, even competing with the very well established and funded Chinese and Korean teams.
Though bobsleigh can be a hostile sport at times, most other nations have been excited to see us represented, and though we’re something of a novelty for now, we hope to show them that we need to be respected based on the performances we’re capable of.
In total there are 30 teams competing in the two-man event. Out of the favourites, Germany and Canada have three sleds; Switzerland, USA, China and Austria have two sleds and TT join Team GB and Jamaica in the event with one sled.
The team are set for 10 more days of training and practice runs before the two-man bobsleigh event takes place on the 14th and 15 February.