Jamaican bobsled pilot Winston Watts and the nation's Olympic Committee said Monday they are accepting an invitation to compete in next month's Sochi Olympics.
It's the first time the Jamaican bobsled team will compete in the games since 2002. The invitation comes after Watts accumulated enough points in lower-tier races in North America to qualify.
"Oh, man, it's really overwhelming," Watts said in a telephone interview Monday. "I'm really happy. I have the whole entire world behind us. The Jamaica bobsled team is very popular, but when I see and hear that the whole entire world, even the Middle East - I mean, really, there's a place in the Middle East that calls me and I don't even know its name - we have fans from so far away. For a little tiny island, it's so emotional."
Watts said in an earlier interview Saturday with The Associated Press that the team had qualified, but was unsure about its ability to participate because of funding. He estimated he needed up to $80,000 to make the Olympic trip.
Much of that concern went away Monday, when Jamaican Olympic officials said they and the Sochi Organizing Committee would cover all travel costs for the team. Watts said he is still doing additional fundraising for equipment, such as different kinds of runners for the sled. Teams typically have several different sets of runners to choose from, depending on ice conditions.
"The money's not all covered yet," Watts said. "We're still hoping for help. But I am very excited that we're officially qualified."
It's been 12 years since Jamaica has had a sled in the Olympics, with Watts finishing 28th at the Salt Lake City Games with Lascelles Brown - now a key part of Canada's national team. Brown won a medal with the Canadians at the 2010 Vancouver Games, one where the Jamaicans were hoping to compete but were again thwarted by funding issues.
Watts himself spent nearly a decade in retirement, no longer able to self-fund much of the team's operations. But the chance to race in Sochi brought him back.
"Once again, the pride of the country is with our athletes who continue to blaze the trail," the Jamaican Olympic Committee said in a statement.
Officially, five people were nominated to the team Monday: Watts, brakeman Marvin Dixon, backup Wayne Blackwood, coach Thomas Samuel and Chris Stokes, who will serve as the mission chief. Stokes was part of the groundbreaking team that represented Jamaica in bobsled at the 1988 Calgary Games. He returned to the Olympics in 1992, 1994 and 1998.