Lake Placid, New York. The tropical central American country of Panama aims to compete in the 2014 Olympic bobsleigh competition in a story that 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 citizenship there. He is now in the process of bringing a team to the Sochi Games, with former world champion Hans Hiltebrand of Swizerland to assist in the project named “Spirit of Panama.”
Hiltebrand, 67, warmed to the idea and his all-around expertise has been invaluable.
“I had originally planned to retire,” he said. “But the idea to compete with Panama at the Olympics was very tempting, especially because it was approached in a very serious way.”
Once Hiltebrand went for it, Zollinger graduated 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 that brought together 85 athletes in September.
Panama’s second best long jumper, 25-year-old Jonathan Romero, is now on the team along with Arsenio Caballero, Eduardo Fonseca and the national 100-meter and 200-meter champion Andreas Rodriguez.
Just like in “Cool Runnings,” start simulation took place in Panama City’s athletics stadium with a bob on wheels.
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.
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) 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.”