* Jamaica’s Olympic debut loses sparkle with mistake-ridden runs
* Germans lead at halfway point
* First Africans Nigeria a distant last
* Crowd-funded Britons in sixth (Updates with results, comments from athletes)
By James Pearson
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The much-heralded Jamaican women’s bobsleigh team made their Winter Olympic debut on Tuesday on a night of colour and emotion and coming 30 years after the country’s first appearance at the Games in Calgary.
At a near sold-out sliding centre pilot Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian and brakewoman Carrie Russell made two impressive starts but their steering let them down as they finished in 18th place out of 20 following the first two runs.
Topping the timesheets at the halfway point was the German sled piloted by Jamanka Mariama, who had an 0.07 second lead over America’s Elana Meyers Taylor, seeking gold to add to previous silver and bronze medals, with Germany’s Stephanie Schneider sitting just behind in third.
They are likely to be fighting for the medals in Wednesday’s third and fourth legs but the headline act on Tuesday, despite their disappointing showing, was undoubtedly the Jamaican team. “It’s just a good feeling to represent our country at this level,” Russell said. “The road hasn’t ended, there’s far more room for us to improve”.
The duo had faced unwanted distractions ahead of the competition when their German coach Sandra Kiriasis quit suddenly last week.
For a while, it looked like they would not even have a sled until Heineken’s Red Stripe beer offered to buy the one they had been using and put them back in contention.
Fenlator-Victorian told Reuters she had been listening to Jamaican reggae artist Chronixx in training to “keep the vibes light and heady” ahead of Tuesday’s race which revived memories of their men’s bobsleigh team in Calgary in 1988, the unlikely inspiration for the 1993 film “Cool Runnings”.
“It really means a lot and though we are not happy with our performance we will analyse it and see where we can improve it tomorrow but I know there is a bigger picture out there,” Fenlator-Victorian added.
“I am hoping to build upon it in the future. We’re the first women’s team from the islands, that’s why barriers are there to be broken.”
U.S.-based Nigerians Seun Adigun and Akuoma Omeoga, both track athletes, were also making history as the first African country to compete in bobsleigh at the Games, though they fared even worse, coming in a distant 20th and last on both runs.
“When we came into this whole process it was to bring awareness,” said pilot Adigun. “It was so that people could understand, love and appreciate the sport of bobsleigh, the country of Nigeria, the continent of Africa”.
The Jamaican women’s team had marked their debut with an official anthem, “Run the Track, It’s Bobsled Time,” the proceeds of which went to supporting the Jamaica Bobsled Foundation.
Britain’s “Team Mica”, Mica McNeill and Mica Moore, raised 44,400 ($62,000) via an online campaign after their funding was suddenly cut in September last year.
“We had to act quite fast and set up a crowd funding page and ask the public to help us get on our journey,” Moore said after Tuesday’s heats, which saw them place an impressive sixth.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” said Moore.
Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries and brakewoman Heather Moyse won gold in Sochi and Vancouver but broke up the partnership and, competing in separate sleds, will start the third run in fourth and seventh places. (Reporting by James Pearson, editing by Ed Osmond/Mitch Phillips)