BY DAN POPOLOSKI —
To find the most intriguing Olympian from North Jersey this winter, one needs to look beyond Team USA’s own roster.
Instead, the best place to look would be in Jamaica, where Jazmine Fenlator is steering a sled into Pyeongchang. Fenlator, who was born in Pequannock and raised in Wayne, qualified with teammate Carrie Russell as the first ever women’s bobsled team from Jamaica.
In the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Fenlator was the pilot of USA’s No. 3 sled along with Summer Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones. After finishing 11th, she interned with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the following June. There, Fenlator realized the need for more diversity and inclusion in the Winter Olympics. Utilizing her father’s roots in the island nation to receive dual-citizenship, the New Jersey native switched allegiances in hopes of building a long lasting program.
“The point is to show our nation that we are not limited by geography, weather or race to participate in any sport, educational avenue, or career path,” Fenlator said on Twitter.
The IOC has previously allowed special spots in the Olympics before for countries and athletes that couldn’t qualify by the standard means in hopes of expanding new audiences, especially in niche sports. However, Fenlator and Russell earned enough points on the World Cup circuit to make it to Pyeongchang by merit, rather than a courtesy bid.
Jamaica has made history in the sport before. The iconic four-man team that debuted in 1988 prompted the movie “Cool Runnings” and became one of the most famous storylines in Winter Olympics history. Since then, there have been several men’s teams keeping the tradition going, but Fenlator and Russell thought it was important to open up the sport to Jamaican women.
In a sport that recruits many offseason track and field athletes, Jamaica makes a natural fit for bobsled, despite the lack of sliding tracks and ice. Fenlator herself is a former sprinter from college, so naturally drawing from the laundry list of world and Olympic champions from both the men’s and the women’s side in Jamaica will fuel the program well into the future.
Her team isn’t the only one making historic waves in South Korea. For the first time ever, a team from Nigeria qualified for the Games in bobsled as well, creating a field of pioneers.