How Cryptocurrency, Crowdfunding And A Little Internet Altruism Saved Jamaica’s Hopes For Bobsled Gold

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Just in case you missed it, a heart-warming story unfolded this week involving an unlikely combination of bobsled, Jamaica, virtual currency, crowdfunding and generosity. It has all the makings of an inspiring Disney movie — er, an inspiring Disney sequel. Last Sunday, news began trickling out that a two-man bobsled team from the island nation of Jamaica had qualified for the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The country’s official Twitter account for the 2014 games announced the news that the team had qualified, including an image that appeared to be a reference to Cool Runnings, the John Candy-led cult film that loosely chronicled Jamaica’s debut in bobsled for the 1988 Olympic Games in Alberta, Canada.

The world apparently loves a sequel. In a plot twist seemingly right out of Cool Runnings, despite qualifying for the 2014 Olympics, team captain Winston Watts told the New York Times that the team hadn’t been able to raise the necessary funds to make it to Russia. Watts said that he had essentially been self-funding the team’s efforts thus far, and had even dug into his personal savings to fly the team to the U.S. for the bobsledding qualifiers. Nevertheless, after finding little help from the Jamaican Olympic Association or private investors, the team was forced to turn elsewhere.

In the world of bobsled, and perhaps sports in general, there has never been a more quintessential underdog story. First of all, the Jamaican bobsled team is from, well, Jamaica. Second, the team is competing against teams with significant some financial backing (and actually hail from more arctic climes). Not only that, Winston Watts came out of retirement to lead the 2014 bobsled team, and if the team were to compete in Sochi, Watts would be second-oldest bobsled pilot in Olympic history at age 46.

Luckily, the citizens of the Internet are sympathetic to an underdog story and were not about to let the team sit this one out due to lack of funding. And that’s when Jamaican bobsledding had its first introduction to the altruistic power of both virtual currency and digital crowdfunding proponents alike. Fittingly, it was a joke currency — or a virtual currency inspired by a dog meme — that came to the rescue. Yes, the very peer-to-peer cryptocurrency loved by Lassie, the world’s pooches and geeks alike, and the very currency that began as a joke but has since been hailed as a potential successor to Bitcoin: The noble, Dogecoin.

In a movement that began on Reddit, the Dogecoin Foundation seized the opportunity to promote its virtual currency on the world stage and help send the Jamaican bobsled team to Sochi. Over a matter of days, the Dogecoin community raised over 27 million Dogecoins, the equivalent of $30,000 for those without a canine cryptocurrency analyst on hand.

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 4.26.36 AMThat, in and of itself, is something to behold, but the Internet wasn’t done yet. Just as the Dogecoin campaign began to hit full steam, word of the Jamaican bobsled team’s plight got to the founders of Y Combinator-incubated, group-funding platform, Crowdtilt. A Jamaican bobsled fan launched a campaign on Crowdtilt to pool funds for the team from sympathetic fans and, before long, the startup got wind of the campaign, as did the team’s president, Chris Stokes, and founding member of the original “Cool Runnings” team, Devon Harris.

The team made the Crowdtilt effort its “official fundraising campaign,” and the Crowdtilt founders worked with the Dogecoin Foundation to convert the $30K raised in Dogecoin (from 1,600 Dogecoin supporters) into Bitcoin and then combine it with the money raised on Crowdtilt.

As one might expect, the campaign quickly surpassed its goal and then some. After three days live, the campaign raised just under $130K ($129,587, to be precise) — more than 12 times the campaign’s goal — including the contribution from the Dogecoin community.

Crowdtilt co-founder James Beshara tells us that it was one of the fastest campaigns to reach its goal in the platform’s history and there were points when as much as $3,000 was donated in 60 seconds. The average donation was $34.60, with nearly 3,000 individuals contributing to the campaign from 50 states and 52 countries.

Because of the outpouring of support, the Jamaican bobsled team will now be able to make its flight to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. In a message posted to Crowdtilt, Devon Harris said that the money raised will be used to “cover training expenses (food, board, traveling, track fees, etc), and equipment purchases as the team completes its final preparation for the Games … And funds will also be earmarked to ship the sled and related equipment to Russia.”

This is the kind of stuff that makes one proud to live in a world where generous people from all over the world can leverage digital currency and crowdfunding — and technology in general — to help those in need. It’s just one example of millions of underdog stories out there deserving of our time and consideration, and hopefully it becomes an example to a whole new generation of the tools we now have at our disposal — and how they can be used to benefit the greater good. Or at least give bobsled a story that’s worth following …

Either way, we look forward to seeing Cool Runnings 2 come to theaters near us in 2015. After all, it’s clearly the follow-up to The Social Network that we’ve been waiting for.