Cool Runnings (1993) In Short
Title: Cool Runnings
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Lynn Siefert, Michael Ritchie
Main Stars: John Candy, Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba
Before we dig in: If by any chance you haven’t seen the movie – I encourage you to see it first. It’s a 90’s iconic film. In this article I’m going to emphasize few of the lessons that deserve a separate look.
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Cool Runnings Movie
Do you remember that old movie where African team is going to winter Olympics to compete in bobsled race? That‘s a 1993 family movie called Cool Runnings. A while back I spontaneously wanted to rewatch this childhood movie once again and I was surprised it was actually filled with beautiful and meaningful life lessons. So I wanted to unpack the most important bits. But before that – let me briefly remind you the characters and plot.
Plot and Characters
In Jamaica Derice (played by Leon) is preparing for Olympics (trial run actually). He is in his best shape and is has his hopes up there. Central character is determined and ambitious.
Soon we meet Sanka (Doug E. Doug), his best friend, and apparently a rastaman (nice touch, lol) (drives Rasta Rocket in this pushcart derby). He is said to be lazy, but his vibes throughout the film can‘t be beaten.
Derice due to falling of competitor falls too and fails to go through trials. We get introduced to early genius of Hans Zimmer compositions.
In Olympic Committee office Derice sees the image of this father with some guy wearing a gold medal. That‘s where he gets idea of preparing to compete in winter Olympics. In pushing a bobsled…
The now old bookie Irv (John Candy), though 2 gold medals owner is hardly convinced in the idea of training the first Jamaican bobsled team, but eventually he accepts. Next thing in to do list: collect a team.
Yul is strong and not too pleasant character. His main motivation is to leave the island. „We may be on the same team, but I am no one’s teammate. Uff. Harsh. When he enters the team he is depicted among strict style wardrobes. Right.
Lastly, late arrives the rich boy Junior Bevil, who tipped the two runners and enters the team. He came from rich family, unsecure, lacks confidence and is clearly not liked by Yul. Junior is inherently a good guy. Again great composition of director to reveal team dynamics.
And so the training starts with wheels, failures and no obviously no ice.
Do you remember the „Sanka, you dead?“ „Ya man“ bit? It echoes throughout the movie. It‘s a great touch by writers to form an „inside joke“ with a viewer.
Olympic Commitee rejects the application for funding. It does not want to spend the little money they have to have international community laugh at their probable failure. After failing to raise enough funds on their own, the only thing that saves the dream is rich guy selling his car. Unknown to his father by the way. And so the team lands in Canada‘s blizzard.
The Coach is busy trying to get a bobsled, while team struggles to walk on ice for the first time. Team on race ice is met with skepticism, mocking and has to work both on physical and emotional sides of things. Several events during the training bond the team. On the opposite side, several events shake things up and challenge the progress. However after a successful qualification team gains confidence and respect among other teams. And during the final race… Well. Follow along.
Walk-through Cool Runnings
During the trial run we see this shot. Poster in the back reads: „…Unity is strength.“. That‘s a great setup to the upcoming events that these three central runners will go through next. Note that suspension points before? It does not matter what was before. Past is a mere experience.
This race shot also gives clues about the characters of the future team through color. Yuls‘ black outfit implies power, integrated evil. Green/yellow tells us Junior is fearful, chicken like, fresh (green) in confidence building. Derice‘s blue outfit tells us he is an order maker, leader.
Numbers on the shirts is a bit harder and is open for discussion, however we can see clearly that other runners are numbered 30, 34, so 6, 8, 12 are more connected than others. Another symbolic: these three they all divide by 3.
Ambition is not enough. Whenever we pursue something challenges and problems will soon be met. What the dialogues and scenes of Cool Runnings teaches the viewer is the power of Persistence. The Coach rejects Derice a number of times. However belief and persistence is that, what lands the opportunity to have the best guy to get trained by in Jamaica. Ok, for the record, the father – coach relation in the past also helps.
Team faces challenges everywhere they turn. Training, collecting funds to travel, getting a bobsled, shaming from other teams. Belief and persistence are the things that team has to anchor itself to overcome the outside challenges.
In hotel Sanka and Yul get into argument about the dreams for the future. Yul has a picture of Palace torn out of magazine where he wants to live after winning the Olympics and becoming famous (socially conditioned success model). Sanka makes fun of it because it is Beckingham Palace, and if Yul really wants to live there he will have to marry the queen. Sanka also puts more salt on hurt Yul‘s vision saying he will actually end up like everyone else really – being a nobody. At this point Junior contradicts: „Says who?“ He tells the example of his father: when he started he was living one room hut while now lives in one of the biggest homes in Kingston.
Did you notice that slogans are actually true? But overtime it got a negative connotation attached to it. As if everyone knows that, so what is the point in repeating it over and over again? I have an answer. Because rarely someone acts them out.
Junior also spills more slogans (at least today). All one (Yul) has to do is know what he wants and work hard for it. And if he works hard enough, he will get it. But even more importantly: The more people like that are around that do exactly that (working hard on their dreams), the better off this world would be.
This infers that people‘s dreams are benevolent. Work clears the soul, so I would have to agree.
Junior hands Yul‘s scrunched picture after Sanka‘s fun and encourages teammate‘s dream. Therefore, even after being bullied for failed trial running race Junior, from inferior place makes great shifts in team dynamics. „Go ahead Yul Brenner, go get your palace“.
Derice‘s leadership deserves the section of itself. Throughout the movie we can extract plenty of meta leadership characteristics. Let’s see what they are.
Back in Jamaica when coach assigns places in a bobsled, Sanka is furious and surprised why he‘s not the driver (he was driving „Rasta Rocket“ after all). But coach explains the importance of the driver.
He has to work harder than anyone. He is the first to show up and the last to leave. When the teammates are out drinking beer, he‘s up in his room studying the pictures of turns. […] The driver must remain focused 100% at all times. Not only is he responsible for knowing every inch of every course he races he is also responsible for the lives of other three people in his sled.
So writers correctly tie up leadership with responsibility. We all know power comes with responsibility.
When team first sees what bobsled their coach managed to get, their reactions are similar to shock, surprise, confusion, disappointment. But not Derice reaction is different. Right after coach explains that sled is not much to look at Derice says:
“Shh, she is beautiful”
Similar reaction could be seen on his face when the team is presented with Jamaican sports outfits.
And really when you think about it there are a number of reasons to complain at just all the time. But complaining won’t fix anything. Attitude is everything. Lowering the bar of expectations and appreciating what you already have puts you in position of readiness. Finding wonders on the ground may seem alien to others, but it is that ability that all great leaders have – Seeing Opportunities instead of Problems.
Giving credit to others
Switzerland team rolls out their bobsled out of garage where Derice is polishing the sled. A guy sits down beside him and comment: “Those guys are pretty good, aren’t they?” Derice: “Good? They are the best!”
Whenever you build something you have two choices to be the best: work hard and build the best stuff or destroy everyone else’s work to make yours stand out. Leaders recognize and respect competition. It is the ultimate level an organization can achieve as explained in Tribal Leadership, which is “we rock, and the world rocks”. Giving others credit is also the thing Dale Carnegie liked to emphasize in his book.
The power of self affirmation and team building
You are what you tell yourself you are. You are your thoughts essentially. And this is embodied in subsequent scene.
Junior gets a letter from his angry rich dad saying he has to come home immediately. Yul and Junior discuss the situation in a bar where German team is also present. German team’s leader mocks Jamaica’s team once again and Yul is fed up with agreeableness and Junior’s inability to stand up for himself. He takes him to the bathroom and tells him:
“Now look in the mirror and tell me what you see.” Junior replies: “I see Junior” Yul: “you know what I see? I see pride! I see power! I see a badass mother who don’t take crap of nobody!” Junior: “you really see all that?” And this is the essence: “ya man. But it’s not about what I see. It’s about what you see.”
That is exactly right. It’s a dreadful mistake to see yourself as a aggregate reflection of opinion by society. You have to know who you are inside yourself. Or at least to know who you are not. Failing to do so will cause needless suffering with any change in outside opinion of you.
Yul makes Junior repeat this mantra until he is so rallied up, goes out and starts a fight with Germans. Funny thing: when guys explain themselves to Derice and Coach, Yul refers to Junior as his teammate is is a clear indication of change in Yul’s priorities in a team. Standing for one another is what makes a team work. At this point viewer is now fully in love with this team.
Confronting the Authority
During progress in life you will face the moment of separation. Parents, teachers, professors, mentors, senior work officers and all sorts of societal authorities have helped you grow and be who you are right now. But the moment comes when you have to separate, be on your own, gain independence and confidence. Sometimes it easy and another times it’s hard. It must be noted though, not everyone gains independence, but I refuse to expand on this right now. The deeper problem lies with change in authority’s perspective of the subordinate.
Junior character has been under his father’s wing forever and he came to Calgary to order him to come with him to pursue a career his father worked on laying groundwork for. “You might not have done what you were asked; but you will do what you are told. You are coming home”.
Junior tries to convince father team needs him etc, but father is angry, bossy and determined. And so Junior has transcend the perception the father has of his son.
Father tells son he will wait in the lobby and enters the lift. Junior, seeing his reflection in a mirror repeats “I am pride; I am power” and stops the door and confronts the authority. Explaining he is an independent human being. And only he knows what is best for him. “I am a man and I am an Olympian and I’m staying right here.”
Yul after seeing the confrontation greets Junior and shows him support. This is truly inspiring and generally great scene.
The first official run by team goes terrible. They are stifled, enter the sled late etc. Derice has been long looking after how Swiss team does things and tried to model the success in Jamaican team. However while copying techniques it is far more important not to copy the style and vibe. And Sanka spills some great wisdom to Derice:
Let me tell you something rasta, I did not came here to forget where I come from. […] and the best I can be is Jamaican. […] if we look Jamaican, walk Jamaican, talk Jamaican and is Jamaican, then we better sure as hell bobsled Jamaican
I couldn’t agree more. Once you betray yourself, you cannot be the best you can be, because you are not You anymore. You shouldn’t over any price forget where you came from and who you are.
Short and meaningful quotes
-[…]And it wasn‘t fair;
-It rarely is, my boy. It rarely is.
-Do the words „give up“ mean anything to you?
-Not a thing.
-[…] nobody likes us.
-We‘re different. People are always afraid of what‘s different.
“A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you are not enough without it, you will never be enough with it.”
Most Interesting Trivia from Cool Runnings
- Cool Runnings means “go in peace”.
- Contrary to the story in movie, the Jamaican team was met with open arms by the international Bobsledding teams. One of the other teams even went so far as to lend the Jamaican team a back-up sled so they could qualify.
- In the sport of bobsledding, adding weight to the sled is perfectly legal. In fact, sometimes it’s a safety measure. Both two and four-man sleds have minimum and maximum weights. The weight of the sled is calculated as the total weight of the sled and its crew. If the fully loaded sled weighs less than the minimum, it is perfectly legal to add weight to make up the difference.
- Actual television sports footage from NBC network covering the 1988 Winter Olympics was utilized for the film and edited into the movie.
- On January 18, 2014 the Jamaican bobsled team qualified for the 2 man bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. They have described themselves as “Cool Runnings, The Second Generation.” In light of the team’s qualification for the 2014 Olympics, Dudley Stokes, one of the original 1988 team and now general secretary of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation, said “I don’t think the support for the team, like we’ve seen over the last three days, would have been sustainable without the ongoing appeal of the movie”. The team received funding from many sources, including one donation campaign held by the online community for the cryptocurrency Dogecoin.
- The Jamaican bobsledder characters in the movie were all fictional characterizations and were not based on their real life counterparts. John Candy’s Irving “Irv” Blitzer coach character is also fictional.
That is not even everything!
Although I covered quite a bit, I won’t spoil the best. And certainly I have missed out a lot. If by any chance you have not seen the movie yet, you have my word, it won’t let you down. This old family movie from Disney Cool Runnings certainly has lasting value.
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