CALGARY, Alberta — We are watching the sleds come down the hill. Our feet are in mud. The sun is warm.
“Who’s winning?” someone asks.
“Who cares?” comes our answer.
We are not interested in winners in this Olympic bobsled competition. We know the winners must be East German or Russian, because they are winning everything else.
Nor are we interested in the U.S. team, because every time we turn around, someone on the U.S. team is suing someone else on the U.S. team. Besides, they are in 23d place.
But look. Here comes a sled. It is bumping the walls. Oops. Up the side. Then back in. Scrape, scrape. It is the sled from Mexico.
“Is there anyone you would like to interview?” asks the Olympic Committee person in charge of the fenced-in media area.
We look at the Mexicans, who are embracing now, having survived their run.
“Them,” we say.
The real story of this Olympic bobsled race — and maybe the whole Olympics — is not the gold, silver or bronze medal. The real story is the
“Caribbean Cup,” a silver plate purchased three days ago at a Calgary shop by a member of the Virgin Islands team.
“Wait,” you say. “There’s no snow in the Virgin Islands.”
The Caribbean Cup goes to the top finisher among eight countries that have no snow, no track and few people. It is the perfect award for these XV Winter Olympics, where the trivial — Eddie Edwards, curling, the guy who crashed into downhill racer Pam Fletcher — has replaced the important.
Which is why we are here, at the bottom of the run. We know where the news is. We will be there when the bad bad bobbers come bob-bob-bobbing along.
And here come the Mexicans. They are bad. Very bad. Let’s talk to them.
“How was the run?” we ask Roberto Tames Perrera.
“Bumpy,” he says.
Did we tell you about the Mexican team? Four brothers, Roberto, Adrian, Jorge and Jose? Drove to Calgary in a Chrysler and a Chevy? With their mother and father? Fifty-three-hour trip. They slept in shifts.
“Did you have any trouble at the border?” we ask.
“Yeah, a lot,” says Roberto. “They kept looking at our passports and saying, ‘You’re here for what?’ “
It is not important that they never saw the sleds they would use until they got here. It is not important that they are renting a sled from a Canadian photographer. It is not important that they once flipped over and went down on their heads. That stuff might count in the real Olympics.
We are at the other Olympics now. What counts is the trivial. This is what counts: All four brothers work in the same Mexican restaurant in Dallas, La Cantina Laredo — they are waiters — and the worksheet in the kitchen where their hours are usually posted reads for Jose, Jorge, Roberto and Adrian this week: “OLYMPICS.”
“Are the other waiters rooting for you?”
“Yes,” says Adrian, “they’re making a lot better tips without the four of us around.”
Oh, wait a minute. Another sled. Bang. Crash. Scrape, scrape. It is a nasty run. It is . . . Jamaica.
“You wish to speak with them?” asks the Olympic Committee woman.
We watch them get out, shaking their heads. They look as if they have just come off Space Mountain in Disneyland.
“Definitely,” we say.
Let us tell you about the Jamaicans, while we wait for them to come over. Until last summer, there was no bobsled team in Jamaica. Then an American named George Fitch decided to put up $60,000 to fund a squad. He placed posters in schools and army bases around the country, which read, and we paraphrase: “Here is your chance to represent Jamaica in the Winter Olympics. Come for a tryout next Wednesday. Previous cold weather experience not necessary.”
Fitch ran the hopefuls — 35, we are told — through a series of drills. He chose the fittest of the fit. It is not important that none had ever seen a bobsled up close, or that several had never seen snow.
What is important is this: Sweatshirts. The Jamaican team members help fray expenses by selling “Jamaican Bobsleigh” sweatshirts wherever they go. They carry bags of them. Want an autograph? How about a sweatshirt? They even sold them to reporters following a press conference.
“How was your run?” someone asks Dudley Stokes of the two- man team.
“It was not so good,” he says.
“How are the sweatshirts selling?”
Crash. Bump. Skid. Hey, look who’s here! The Virgin Islands team.
“You want to. . . . ” begins the woman in the media area.
“Absolutely,” we say.
Here come John Reeve and John Foster. Age 50. Not together. Separately. Two of the oldest athletes (and we use that term loosely) in the Olympics. They call themselves “The 100-Year-Old Sled.” Very catchy.
“Did you have a good run?” we ask.
“The track is melting a little,” says Foster. “When we tried to rock the sled back and forth, it stuck.”
Reeve and Foster, like many of the other warm-weather teams, began their Olympic quest pretty recently, as Olympic quests go. They are former wealthy sailors who sailed from Great Britain 20 years ago, just for the heck of it, wound up in the Virgin Islands, and decided to stick around.
It is not important that they do not fill their speed suits in the same places as the young guys. Not important that their fastest start ever was 6.15 seconds — which is a full second slower than those of the good racers — in an event that is decided by hundredths of a second.
What is important is this: Age. When they are at the top of the track, people keep asking them what team they coach.
“How did the Caribbean Cup come about?” we ask Reeve, who thought the thing up.
“Well, I went to a silver shop and had a plate engraved. We’re going to give it out Sunday or Monday. There are eight countries involved, all with no snow, no track, and a relatively small population.”
“Jamaica, Virgin Islands, Portugal, Netherlands-Antilles, Australia, Portugal, New Zealand and Bulgaria.”
“Wait,” we say, “don’t they get snow in Bulgaria?”
“Well, yes, I guess,” says Reeve. “But they were so keen on the idea, we decided to let them in anyhow.”
Why not? Anyone can enter. Got a good story? You’re in. What is important now in these Winter Olympics is what was unimportant before. So we stand at the bottom of the track, in the mud, with warm breezes blowing, waiting, perhaps, for those crazy Netherland-Antilles guys, or maybe Prince Albert of Monaco, who is racing as well.
“Anyone interested in interviewing Kipours and Kozlov?” asks the media woman, of the two Russians who are leading the bobsled competition.
“Who?” we say.