By Mitch Albom
CALGARY, Alberta -- We are watching the sleds come down the hill. The sun is warm. Our feet are in mud.
"Who's winning?" someone asks.
"Who cares?" comes our answer.
We are not interested in winners in this Olympic two-man bobsled competition. We know the winners will be East German or Soviet, 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, the Americans are in 24th place.
But look. Here comes a sled. It is bumping the walls. Ooops. 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 woman 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 Winter Games -- is not the gold, silver or bronze medal. The real story is the stories that come in between.
The real story is the story of the Caribbean Cup, a silver trophy purchased last week at a Calgary shop by a member of the Virgin Islands bobsled 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. It is the perfect award for these Winter Olympics, where the trivial
-- Eddie Edwards, curling, the guy who crashed into downhill racer Pam Fletcher -- has replaced the important.
That is why we are here, at the bottom of the track. 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 Perea.
"Bumpy," he says.
Did we tell you about the Mexican team? Four brothers, Roberto, Adrian, Jorge and Jose? Drove to Calgary with their mother and father in a Chrysler and a Chevy? Fifty-three-hour trip. They slept in shifts.
"Did you have any trouble at the border?" we ask.
"Yeah, a lot," Roberto says. "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 for $1,000. 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. This is what counts: All four brothers work as waiters in the same Mexican restaurant in Dallas, La Cantina Laredo. And the work sheet in the kitchen where their hours are posted reads for Jose, Jorge, Roberto and Adrian this week: "OLYMPICS."
"Are the other waiters rooting for you?"
"Yes," Adrian says. "They're making a lot better tips without the four of us around." Crash! Bump! Skid. Hey, look what'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. Their hair is thinning. Their midsections are soft. They call themselves "The 100-Year-Old Sled."
"Did you have a good run?" we ask.
"The track is melting a little," Foster says. "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 fairly recently, as Olympic quests go. They are two wealthy businessmen who sailed from Great Britain in the '60s, wound up in the Virgin Islands and decided to stick around. The bobsled idea came up 18 months ago.
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 -- a full second slower than that of the good racers -- in an event that is decided by hundredths of a second.
What is important is this: the Caribbean Cup. It was Reeve's idea. He went to a silver shop, paid for it and had it engraved.
"Why did you do it?" we ask.
"Well, I wanted to encourage other countries with warm climates where they have no snow. Give us something to shoot for. We're sort of in our own clique, you know? The eight countries."
"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," Reeve says. "But they were so keen on the idea, we decided to let them in anyhow."
Why not? Let 'em in. What is important in these Olympics is what was unimportant in Olympics before. The small stuff is now the big stuff. The trivial is the significant. When they give out the Caribbean Cup, as many people might be there as when they give out the gold medal.
So we stand at the bottom of the bobsled track, in the mud, with warm breezes blowing, waiting, perhaps, for those crazy Netherlands Antilles guys; or maybe Prince Albert of Monaco, who is racing a sled as well. "PRINCE ALBERT IN A CAN!" Now there's a headline.
"Anyone interested in interviewing Kipours and Kozlov?" asks the media woman, of the two Soviets who are leading the bobsled competition.
"Who?" we ask. CUTLINE Some of the more unusual sights of the bobsled event: Above, Dudley Stokes steers the Jamaican bobsled with brakeman Michael White in tow; left, Prince Albert of Monaco adjusts his goggles while teammate Gilbert Bessi prepares their sled.
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