LILLEHAMMER, Norway — It was warm and breezy and the steel drums were playing and here were Dudley Stokes and Leo Campbell, of the now-famous Jamaican bobsled team, hanging around the bobsled office — which, for all we know, is a shady spot between two palm trees — and they’re worrying about the 1994 Winter Olympics. They’re wondering how they will ever pay for crucial equipment, like bandages. And here comes the mailman with a letter, no return address.

And they open it and — I am not kidding here — a bank check falls out.

No signature.

Huge money.

“I do not want to say how much, but it was very generous,” Campbell says, smiling. “It may have made the difference in our coming here.”

Any idea who sent it?

“No.”

Any suspicions?

“No.”

Aren’t you curious?

“The person asked that we not try to find his identity. And we will respect that.”

Exactly how I would handle the situation.

But this kind of thing only happens to Jamaican bobbers. People make movies about them. People send them money. This never happens to you or me. But we’ve never gone down an ice track on our heads.

The Jamaicans have. It’s what made them popular. Serious bob fans, like you and me, appreciate their innovations in steering, such as closing their eyes. Besides, the Jamaicans were always easily distinguished from the powerhouses of the sport, like the Swiss. SWISS TEAM CONVERSATION.

“Ja.”

“Ja.”

“Ja.”JAMAICAN TEAM CONVERSATION

“OHMIGOD, MON!”

“AAAAAAHHHHHH!” You can’t live on reputation alone

Yep, those were the good old days. But all is not well in the “Cool Runnings” kingdom. True, money now arrives in unmarked envelopes. You gotta like that.

But there’s bad news, too.

The team is . . . (gasp) . . . improving!

I kid you not. In the two-man competition last weekend, Jamaica was 24th out of 42 teams going into the final run. Thank goodness they had the sense be disqualified for being overweight. After all, they have a reputation to protect!

This weekend, in the four-man race, Stokes says, “We are looking for 15th place or higher.”

Whoa, Dud. This could be mondo problem for Rasta-Bobbers. Everyone loves you when you smack off walls. But start talking split times, and who wants that? That’s like Macaulay Culkin growing facial hair.

“We have this reaction all the time,” Stokes laments. “The story the press wants is not about progressing. They still want to treat us like a curiosity, which, really and truly, is out the door.”

Out the door? We like that! When you fall out the door! And bobsleds don’t even have doors!

“We would like to put that behind us. We want to show that people like us can come to an alien environment and take on an alien sport.”

Aliens? Did he say aliens?

“We would like to write a new story.”

Well. Join the club. The Jamaicans are like many former stars trapped by reputations. Torvill and Dean were supposed to be unbeatable in ice dancing, right? They came. They finished third.

And Alberto Tomba, the skiing playboy, wants to be the first to win Alpine gold in three Olympics. In his opening press conference, he got this:

“Alberto, all Olympic athletes are being given two condoms. Have you received yours, and have you used them yet?”

To his credit, Tomba sniffed, “I bring my own supply.” Alas, his patter was better than his powder. He missed a gate in the giant slalom and has one race left, on Sunday. He might return to Italy with more latex than gold. These guys are getting serious

And then, of course, there is Tonya Harding, who, if she truly wanted to erase her bad-girl reputation, shouldn’t have skated in a skimpy red outfit, which brought to mind the famous words, “Yo! How much?”

Someone wrote of Tonya’s attire: “All that was missing was the elephant.”

Ouch. You see? It’s darn hard to escape your image.

Which brings us back to our men in the sled. The movie “Cool Runnings” immortalized the Jamaican team. Unfortunately, fans now come to the track and yell, “CRASH! CRASH!”

Dudley Stokes, who was part of the original team, can only sigh. “Disney made a movie they thought would be commercial. It was not a blow-by-blow account.”

Meanwhile, his Jam-men fight for a new image, from back of the line to middle of the pack. They can only hope there is money there. Outside of that anonymous donor, they have just one sponsor, Red Stripe Beer (a good choice, since I vote a minimum 10 beers be required before actually entering a bobsled). Still, sponsors want attention. How much do you get in the middle?

Ah, well. The price of fame. The Jamaicans only want the Olympic dream — to be the best. Get this: They’re talking medals in ’98.

“If you know any other sponsors, tell them to call me,” Campbell says.

Sure. And if you know any other letter writers, give ’em my address.

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