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Olympics – Bobsleigh – Trinidad & Tobago’s unlikely duo rush to get up to speed

Randy Mancini 3 Feb 12
2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony
FILE PHOTO: 2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Performers stand as flagbearer Andre Marcano of Trinidad and Tobago walks during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Toby Melville

February 12, 2022

By David Kirton

YANQING, China (Reuters) – Trinidad & Tobago brakeman Andre Marcano had never set foot in a bobsled until last October. Now the sprinter, who has taken unpaid leave from his job as a physical education teacher, is rushing to get up to speed with team mate Axel Brown at the Winter Olympics.

“A normal team —- everybody else, the other 29 teams here — have been working together for years and years and years,” said Brown.

“They have rapport, they know each other inside-out as persons, as athletes. We’ve really been against the clock on that.”

Brown, 29, recruited Marcano via an Instagram message after switching to compete for the Caribbean nation following seven years representing Britain in the sport. He has dual nationality via his Trinidadian mother and British father.

“I’ve had more success and more enjoyment than in the seven years prior,” Brown said after training at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre on Friday.

Pilot Brown needed a strong sprinter to pair with him as brakeman and came across track-and-field athlete Marcano, messaging him on Instagram.

Marcano, a PE teacher at an elementary school in New York, was initially sceptical. But, after a few months, he was persuaded to give the sport a try.

“I was pretty horrible on the first day,” Marcano said in an interview posted on his Instagram on Friday.

“After the first day I feel, he’s sending me home, he’s wasting my time.”

Marcano, 35, had long dreamt of competing in the summer Olympics, on the athletics track, and now finds himself racing instead down Yanqing’s high-speed ice track.

But just getting to Beijing was a struggle for the elementary school teacher.

“I almost had to resign because it was too much time away from work. Luckily, things worked out that I didn’t have to resign and leave my job, which I love so much,” Marcano said after training on Saturday.

A friend set up an online fundraising campaign to help him to keep afloat and it has raised nearly $10,000.

Marcano carried the country’s flag in the Beijing opening ceremony as the pair became the first Trinidad & Tobago athletes to compete at the Winter Games in two decades.

Jamaica’s bobsleigh team, whose debut in the four-man event at the 1988 Calgary Olympics inspired the feelgood Disney film ‘Cool Runnings’, have always attracted media attention and the country is back this time with entries in the four-man, two-man and women’s monobob.

“(We are) the lesser known of the two Caribbean sleds,” said Brown. “Jamaica, understandably, has all the attention but we’re here as well, for the first time in a while.”

The pair will have their work cut out when the competition starts on Monday, with Germany and Canada, who won joint gold in Pyeongchang four years ago, setting impressive times in training.

For Brown and Marcano, even a top-20 finish would be worth gold.

“Realistically we’re here to represent our people with pride and respect, with a smile on our face, and do as well as we can,” said Brown.

“What we’re doing means so much to so many people, because we’re not just a face in the crowd, we’re the first people here in 20 years. All of Trinidad’s behind us and knows what we’re doing.”

Trinidad & Tobago last competed at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, with Gregory Sun, Andrew McNeilly and Errol Aguilera — taking turns over the four runs — finishing 37th and last in the two-man bob.

(Reporting by David Kirton; editing by Clare Fallon)