Cool Runnings? Jamaica rugby 7s dream big at Pan Am Games
LIMA, Peru (AP) — They call them Cool Runnings on grass and they dream of their own Hollywood Olympic story.
Jamaica's rugby sevens team is a fan favorite at the Pan American Games in Lima, where it has drawn comparisons to "Cool Runnings" — the 1993 film based on the true story of Jamaica's first bobsled team, which competed in the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
"Wherever we go everybody seems to enjoy us — whether it's Bob Marley or Cool Runnings...I think it's just the good vibes," fly-half Conan Osborne told the Associated Press.
"It's the passion within the squad. None of us are full-time players, so we're all fighting for the same cause. We're trying to prove that we deserve to be out here. We want to step up to that level where we're competing against these world-class teams."
The Jamaicans lost 52-0 to Argentina in their debut at the Pan Am Games Friday. But they remain hopeful that they can win at least a game in the "Group of Death" that also includes Uruguay and two-time defending champion Canada.
"It happens all the time," Osborne said. "At the Commonwealth Games, we had England, Samoa and Australia. At Hong Kong, we had Ireland, Uruguay and Russia. So, it just seems like everybody wants to see what we're made of and puts us in the tough groups, but it's a challenge that we want."
Earlier this month, Jamaica missed the chance to secure a spot at Tokyo 2020 when it lost to Canada at the Rugby Americas North qualifying event. But "The Crocs" will have a repechage event next year in hopes of qualifying to the Olympics. They'll also play against the Canadians again Saturday in Lima.
"Argentina was definitely a tough game. We didn't really stick to our game plan. We were a bit scrambled out there but it's a good tournament for us just to get some more experience against the big boys," co-captain Ashley Smith told the AP. "Canada beat us two weeks ago in Cayman, so this is our chance to try and get back at them."
Jamaica is best-known for world class sprinters like Usain Bolt and the bobsled team that defied odds to compete in the winter Olympics. The Crocs face their own challenges: None of them are pro players. Half of them live in Britain and the rest in Jamaica. All of them juggle jobs, family and training, and they can meet only a week before a big competition.
"I'm a management consultant, we've got some guys that work in insurance. Some work in finance... others are involved in sport, but we're not paid for this," Osborne said.
"We train in our own time and on weekends try and get in the gym after work, after our nine to five jobs. So, we do this for pride for the country and trying to get to that next level and hopefully pave the way for some for some youngsters in Jamaica in the future."
It has paid off. The quick, free-flowing variant of rugby union has grown in Jamaica, which in 2017 became the first Caribbean country to qualify for the Rugby Sevens World Cup. They want to keep on dreaming big.
"This is a potential Cinderella story" Scotland-born head coach Stephen Lewis said. "There's a romance to it, and the Olympics is the ultimate goal, so why not a Cool Ruckings?"