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SMALL WORLD: Women from Britain, U.S. propel Jamaican bobsled teams

September 22, 2017
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - With a vision of becoming the first female bobsledder in Jamaica's history to not only drive at the Olympics but to medal as well, Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian realized, while here in this Olympic village last January, that she needed help. In order to get it, she tapped into the small world that is the international bobsled community.

Fenlator-Victorian was here in January competing at a North American Cup event at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg where she and teammate Carrie Russell became one of the bobsled season's most interesting storylines.

Just a year before the Pyeonchang Olympics in 2018, the pair finished in third place at a North American Cup event, a first for Jamaican women. They did so without an official coach and without some of the resources other bobsledders had, such as Fenlator-Victorian's former U.S. teammates.

Article Photos

Jo Manning of Sheffield, England, is the new “high performance director” of Jamaica’s men’s and women’s bobsled teams.
Photo provided by Jamaican Bobsled Federation

The Mount Van Hoevenberg track serves as a sort of Grand Central Station for bobsledders, coaches and sport officials. They come and go at events, sometimes switching from one international team to another. Many coaches have spent time with various national teams, such as Saranac Laker Tuffy Latour with the U.S. and Canada. Fenlator-Victorian, a New Jersey native of Jamaican descent and a dual-citizen, competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics for Team USA before joining the Jamaican team.

"It has always been that way where you have coaches from different nations helping different nations," Fenlator-Victorian said. "It's not like swimming or track and field or even snowboarding and skiing, where there are a ton of them worldwide. There are a minute number of bobsledders compared to other sports in the Olympic Games. It's a never-ending circle."

One such woman was Jo Manning of Sheffield, England. Last January in Lake Placid, Manning wasn't coaching the British team. Rather, she was here managing the Brazilian national team.

Impressed by Jamaica's success, Manning shared kind compliments with Fenlator-Victorian, who she'd known on the bobsled circuit for nearly a decade.

"It definitely started some eyebrow-raising," Fenlator-Victorian said of her and Russell's January success in Lake Placid. "Then the hamster wheel in the brain was starting to spin.

"After that race," Fenlator-Victorian continued, "[Manning] was very open in saying, 'Man, Jazmine, that's the Jazmine I am used to seeing. It's good to see you getting back your mojo. What's your plan moving forward?' It was a very simple conversation.

"I presented it to the federation to see if we had an opportunity to hire with our budget," Fenlator-Victorian added. "I said, 'If we can, we need to make this work. We need this especially in an Olympic year.'"

Fast-forward eight months, and Manning is no longer with the Brazilian team. Rather, she has signed on to be the first ever "high performance director" for the men's and women's Jamaican bobsled and skeleton teams. She is working with the federation's new head coach Wayne Thomas, a former Jamaican bobsledder himself.

Fenlator-Victorian and Leo Campbell, the vice president of sport for the Jamaica Bobsled Federation, said Manning will devote her time to traveling with the women's team when the men and women split to different places during the upcoming North American and World Cup circuits. The World Cup tour comes through Lake Placid in November and the North American Cup in January.

Campbell said the federation went through an "exhaustive" process in hiring Manning. It was the cap to an eight-month period of restructuring and reorganization of the country's sporting body, and the federation ultimately deemed her ideal for the new role.

"She comes to us from a really awesome background," he said. "We were very lucky to have Jo and already she is starting to have an impact."

Fenlator Victorian commended Manning on her enthusiastic ability to multi-task, referencing a time here in Lake Placid when the bobsledder saw her new coach recording video of bobsledders traversing corners, only to then sprint to the top of the hill to show the athletes the tape and attend to their sled.

Fenlator-Victorian also described Manning as an ideal fit for Jamaica due to her previous experience building up smaller bobsled federations such as in fellow warm-weather nation Brazil and the Netherlands, which Manning helped to manage at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Manning and her wife, Nicola Minichiello, a two-time Olympic bobsledder for Great Britain whom Manning managed, have been leading proponents in the world of bobsled to both expand support for developing nations and to advocate for women.

"Their contributions helped smaller nations with things not necessarily accessible to them," Fenlator-Victorian said.

With the Pyeonchang Olympics five months away, Fenlator-Victorian is full speed ahead to qualify for the games, which isn't a guarantee.

And in another example of the international community that is bobsled, she'll be driving a brand-new 100-percent carbon fiber Shitamachi sled developed by factories in Tokyo, Japan. Fenlator-Victorian traveled to Japan earlier this year to double-check the sled's measurements and get a feel for the device that she'll drive this season.

She also feels having a female in Manning coaching her on this sled will make a difference.

"It's great to have females on tour as well who kind of get it," Fenlator-Victorian said, "because there are different nuances in being in a women's sled. It's much, much lighter, and sometimes you have to be extra-precise with steering because of the different speed. The manipulation of the sled is different."

Campbell doesn't hesitate to dream a bit when it comes to what his federation can accomplish in South Korea. If Fenlator-Victorian and Russell medal in Pyeonchang under Manning's direction, it'd be a monumental day for his nation, no matter where its athletes and coaches are from.

"That would be the story of the decade," he said.



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