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Why We Love "Cool Runnings"...Oh, and Globalization

Every so often a famous foreign policy wonk will declare globalization to be dead. Or claim that the world was more globalized back in the 1900s. We could accept these pronouncements...

Or we could look at the Winter Olympics.

If you don’t believe the world is flat, check out the field in Vancouver. The Cayman Islands, Ghana and Senegal--all countries with no snow or ice--sent athletes to Vancouver to try to win gold. Eighty years ago, when 16 nations all from North America or Europe competed in the Winter Olympics, this could not have happend. Something changed our world; that something is globalization.

In 1988, Jamaica shocked the world by fielding a bobsled team at Calgary. ("We are Jamaica..we are a bobsled team.") The bobsled didn’t compete this year, instead Errol Kerr represented Jamaica in the equally snow-dependent Ski Cross. Jamaica doesn't hold the monopoly on tropical island winter Olympians though. Dow Travers, from the Cayman Islands, competed in the slalom after training in England.

The most famous non-winter Winter Olympian of 2010 was the "Snow Leopard" Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong. Raised in Ghana, studying in London, skiing on indoor slopes, raising money on facebook and myspace, and becoming a international media sensation, he went through every stage of globalization. He even accomplished his goal of not placing last in the Super G.

But that wasn’t the only African skier to compete this year. Leyti Seck, a computer studies student living in Austria, decided to compete for Senegal instead of competing for his adopted home Austria. He too earned press all over Europe to help pay his way to the games.

Blame (or thank) this crazy phenomenon on globalization. The ability to fly to London, compete on the slopes, then fly home, compete on indoor ski ranges, raise funds through facebook and myspace, then still get the sponsorship of your home country. Sure all the Winter Olympians spent plenty of time away from their homelands, but in a globalized world, that is what we should expect. Countries can now afford to send someone abroad, publicize their events, and have them compete in a previously geographically static competition.

And remember I didn’t mention Ethiopia, Bermuda, Colombia, or Morocco or the countries that competed four years ago: Costa Rica, Kenya, Madagascar, Thailand, and the Virgin Islands.

(A final note, in Cool Runnings Yul Brynner says, "I see pride..I see power... I see a bad ass mother who don't take no crap from no buddy." It's pretty good description of American foreign policy the last ten years.)

six comments

i would definitely be why more positive than MC was on globalization. This is an example of the world becoming interconnected, through both travel and media, and it gives people and regions of the world opportunity.

Globalization can be ugly, but this is pretty cool.


Yeah I get that my post didn’t come across as too positive, even though I am generally for having more and more athletes in the Winter Olympics.


It’s was interesting to watch some of the competitions. Figure skating (which I swear I only watched because I was working and there was nothing else on so we figured we might as well support America) to see how many of the competitors were competing for one country, but were born and raised in another. Aliona Savchenko who was silver in pairs for Germany came from Ukraine and Yuko Kavaguti who was bronze in pairs for Russia came from Japan. It’s a demonstration of the fact that competitors travel to where they have the best chance to train and compete. That seems to raise the question of whether those immigrant competitors compete with the same national pride or if they are simply relocating to be more competitive.


Matt you watched figure skating? I am proud of your courage to admit as much.

Two more great examples of mobile competitors. I think all we can really know for sure is that airplane travel, international banking, the internet and all the other forces of globalization are truly alive and well. Short of a nuclear armageddon I don’t see that changing.


How long ago did Martina Navratilova leave what was then Czechoslovakia and start competing for the USA? I don’t think she was using facebook to make it happen. A plane maybe, but they were invented over a hundred years ago. The story of the Jamaican bobsled team also predates the modern interpretation of globalization by several years. I am pretty sure they were not googling the best on-line bobseld retailers in 1988.

Just throwing in an opinion and certainly not wishing to offend. Really like the blog and actually also impressed at the magnanimity at which the authors deal with differing opinions.


@ AJ – We love differing opinions. I would say that Martina Na… represents the schism of the Cold War, which in itself is a precursor/symbol of globalization. Hell, the Olympics alone are a symbol of globalization, and they’re a hundred years old.

I think the point is that it is accelerating.