By Mitch Phillips
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – The romantic “Cool Runnings” tale of Jamaica’s Winter Olympic bobsleigh return was shattered spectacularly on Wednesday as the team’s German coach resigned on the eve of the competition and was condemned as a destructive influence by a senior official.
Sandra Kiriasis, a world, European and Olympic champion as a competitor, “elected not to continue her position” as driver coach to the Jamaican women’s team days before the start of competition at the Pyeongchang Olympics, the Jamaica Bobsleigh (JBSF) announced.
“We are deeply disappointed in her decision to leave the program. We thank her for her invaluable contribution to JBSF and contributing to the success of Jamaica’s first female bobsled Olympic appearance,” it said in a statement.
That, however, was quickly superseded by JBSF President Christian Stokes, who told Reuters: “The lady was a hugely destructive force on the team.
“Now that she is off the team, synergy is much better, tension is down and athletes are now able to focus in a much healthier environment.
“We have our High Performance Director Jo Manning and Coach Dudley Stokes, who have been with the team all season and who have been the ones driving performance, so frankly things have only improved with her departure.
“If you come on the team you have to be a team player. There are no Gods and Goddesses here.”
The BBC reported that the departure of Kiriasis, who they said owns the sled the Jamaicans are planning to compete in, came after she was asked to change her role.
“I have never known such disappointment in this sport, in my life,” Kiriasis, Olympic champion in 2006, was reported as saying.
“The athletes have told me they don’t understand why this has happened as they have no problem with me and we have a good relationship.”
The acrimonious split was certainly not part of the script that has captured global attention as the Jamaican women have been inextricably linked with their men’s team’s appearance at the 1988 Games, which inspired the successful movie “Cool Runnings”.
Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian and Carrie Russell will become Jamaica’s first female Winter Olympians next week. Training begins on Saturday with the opening heats on Tuesday.
Assuming they have a sled to race with.
(Additional reporting by Kayon Raynor in Jamaica and Nick Mulvenney,; Editing by Ed Osmond)