The Sochi Network

‘Cool Runnings was right: black athletes did have it that tough at the Winter Olympics’

Lenny Paul and Sean Olsson at the 1998 Olympics (Reuters), and Paul in 2014 (Prostate Cancer UK)

Former British Olympian Lenox ‘Lenny’ Paul has thoroughly enjoyed the first few days of the Sochi Olympics – not just for the excellent action so far, but for the colourful trips down memory lane the Games always provide.

Paul is a veteran of four Winter Olympics himself, where he participated in two-man and four-man bobsleigh. In 1994 at the Lillehammer Games, he and his crew flirted with the lofty heights of the medal podium before ultimately settling for a best-ever four-man finish of fifth.

However, that close call from 20 years ago hardly scratches the surface of a man who overcame adversity and prejudice on the Olympic trail – as well as having to clear his name amid one of the more bizarre drug test controversies you’ll hear of.

With the Jamaican bobsleigh team returning from a lengthy Olympic absence at Sochi, fond memories of their participation at the 1988 Winter Games and subsequent inspiration for the film ‘Cool Runnings’ have come flooding back.

And though Paul turned out in his four Olympic appearances for Britain, he remains a good friend of Winston Watts, the 46-year-old who came out of retirement to take part in the two-man event in 2014.

Paul recalls the ‘Cool Runnings’ scenes where Jamaica were subject to scorn and mockery by the much-fancied European sides – and confirms that it not only was a real problem during the 80s, but was aimed towards all black bobsleigh competitors.

“There weren’t many black athletes taking part on bobsleigh when I first met up with some of the other guys in 1985/86, of course,” recalled Paul to Yahoo!-Eurosport.

“I had been serving with the Army and then moved onto trying my hand at bobsleigh, and around then we just weren’t taken seriously.

“The contempt that the East Germany and West Germany and other teams had for Jamaica muscling in on ‘their’ sport wasn’t just for the sake of the film.

“Those black athletes who did take part in winter sports back then had to overcome that, not just the Jamaican bobsleigh team – but it was brilliant to see how Jamaica improved from 85/86 to the 1988 Games.

“But it was always a natural progression,” continued Paul. “Bobsleigh is 20 to 25 per cent driving, but you need the runners to get off to a great start – just like ‘Cool Runnings’ emphasised.

“I know Winston well and I hope it goes well for them out in Sochi, as well as the Brits.”

Another reason people often find themselves familiar with Lenny Paul are lists for ‘the most outrageous drug test stories’ – as Paul once found himself registering a higher than normal nandrolone content for what he explained was a spike resulting from some spaghetti sauce he had consumed.

“I think it was a line that The Sun or someone came up with, in the end,” laughed Paul as he recalled the situation, from which he eventually cleared his name.

“The thing is that so many things can cause the reading to creep above standard level – even the degree of training you undertake. I failed the test by 0.0001%.

“Of course, three High Court Judges and the BOA were highly suspicious of the explanation that meat supplements in a food product had a hand in it all, but I put my case forward and I was exonerated.

“In hindsight, I should have at least got a sponsorship deal out of it with Heinz, or someone like that!”

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Paul has now signed up for a new team – Prostate Cancer UK’s ‘Men United’, where he and other top names from the world of sport attempt to raise awareness of the killer issue.

Prostate cancer affects 250,000 men across the UK and the ambassador is urging men to test their knowledge of the deadly disease by signing up via www.prostatecanceruk.org/menunited.

Paul added: “I had a prostate cancer scare recently and was shocked to see the statistics that one in four black men will be affected by the disease.

“Thankfully I’m OK but it proved to me how important it is for us men to get ourselves checked out, and that’s why I signed up for Men United. By signing up and taking the test you too can join the fight.”