An email conversation with Alain Baxter: 'I just wanted my career back. Some people still don't believe me'
Vindication following Olympic disqualification, Negotiated ski tour in a battered old car, Seeing off the 'summer boys' in 'Superstars' victory, Braveheart and the Highland rebel tradition
Monday 21 November 2005
Your nickname - "The Highlander". That's just a newspaper thing isn't it? Probably - but it's not untrue. That's where I'm from. And I used to have long hair, and so someone decided I looked a bit Braveheartish. I've got the first Highlander movie at home. Sean Connery is brilliant in it.
You have already qualified for the 2006 Winter Games slalom skiing event in Turin next February, pending confirmation in January. How do you think you'll do? I'm just hoping to have a good season. I have seven races before the Olympics, and I'd like to see myself back in the top 15. The game plan is to put in a good performance in Turin. If all goes well, who knows what I can achieve?
When all the dust settled after your Olympic disqualification in 2002 for having a quantity of levmetamfetamine in your sample, the International Olympic Committee's appeal court did not dispute your account that you had mistakenly used an American version of Vick's Inhaler that differed from the British product. They accepted that you had taken it for blocked sinuses, and that you gained no performance enhancement. They described you as a "sincere and honest man", you were allowed to resume competition immediately and the costs of your appearance were waived. But they still took your bronze medal away. Something of a mixed message here? I think so. But what can I do? I suppose I could have gone back to court again, but I couldn't afford it and, to be honest, I just wanted to get back to my career. The fact that my story was believed, and I was allowed back to competition was huge. Immense. And even before I was cleared I had so many people behind me. It was fantastic. But there are still people who don't believe me. That's one of the main reasons why I have done the book (Unfinished Business, Dewi Lewis Media, £12.99). When it was first suggested to me I thought, "I'm not even finished competing yet". But then I thought it might make quite an interesting story.
I was one of the media representatives with you in the Dead Goat Saloon shortly after you had won your medal. You seemed to have a healthy thirst. That was my first drink for more than a month, so it tasted pretty good. I would never class myself as teetotal. Some people believe in it, but I think you need a little release every now and then. We are only human. That ended up as a massive night. I went out with my brother Noel, who was also in the slalom, and my cousin Lesley McKenna, who was competing in the snowboarding. We went to a few bars and clubs in Park City, where we were staying. Early the next morning a TV camera crew came to the door to interview me. I'd only had an hour's sleep, and I had no clothes on. Then I couldn't find my medal. Noel was asleep on the couch, and it wasn't round his neck. Finally I looked in his jacket pocket, and it was in there, soaked in beer.
Is it true that the Austrian who inherited your bronze medal didn't want to take it? I think there was a statement from his manager saying he wasn't going to accept it. I don't know if it was done through him. But he did accept it at an award ceremony. I saw him at the first race the following season, and he came up to me and had a word. I said: "I was disqualified and you were next. It's yours." It's fair enough.
Alain. Why not Alan? It was my father's idea - he named me after Alan Breck-Stewart, the rebellious Highlander in Robert Louis-Stevenson's book Kidnapped. And apparently he preferred the French spelling because it was a bit different.
You lived with your mum in a caravan for several of your childhood years, and you had to battle your way upwards in your career. Do you feel you had things hard? I was lucky in a way because from quite a young age various people started recognising I had talent, and helping me with little bits of support or money. My grades weren't up to scratch at school - I was either going to be a joiner or a plumber, or become a skier. It helped that both my mum and dad were involved in the sport - my mum was a ski instructor and my dad competed for Britain. So I decided to go for it. Quite a few of my mates are joiners or plumbers now. And the money's pretty good...
You were a bit Alf Tupperish when you started out on the World Cup tour, weren't you? When I was on the tour in 1991-92 I got around Europe in a beat-up VW Passat. It was about 18 years old. There were a few of us travelling round in the same position - we were like a convoy! I didn't have much financial support in those days - there was no Lottery funding - and sometimes by the time I arrived at a venue there was no time to going looking for a hotel. So myself and one of the other lads would just sleep in the car. It was cheaper. I had a sleeping bag, and I used to cover myself over with whatever else I could find. But the car had a hole in the back, which didn't help. It was quite funny in the mornings. The other teams would be coming out of their hotel after breakfast and find us getting changed in the car park. It was not professional, but it was good fun.
Have you ever been afraid while training or competing? I've had a couple of big, big crashes. One of them was in Salt Lake before the Games got started when I was training for the super-giant slalom. I came over a rise and went from light into shadow, hit a roll and found myself flying backwards through the air about three metres from the ground, heading for a group of trees. People die like this all the time, and I remember thinking, "This is going to hurt". I was trying to get myself into position to land where I was not going to do too much damage. I came down a couple of centimetres away from the trees. I had another wipe-out the other day while I was practising in Austria, a wee head-plant. It's all right, though - I've just got a black eye at the moment. I remember watching TV and seeing Hermann Maier have his big fall during the Nagano Games in 1998. You could see him doing the same thing as he was coming down - spotting his landing so he was not going to get absolutely destroyed.
Presumably you've sold your old Passat by now? Yeah, I've now got a Calibra that is falling apart. It's going to the tip as we speak. Actually, I did buy a Porsche with my girlfriend, but we are trying to sell that at the moment.
What films have you most enjoyed, and why? I like action films, all the Bond movies. And easygoing comedy. I enjoyed The Addams Family. Happy Gilmore was another of my favourites, particularly as I used to play ice hockey.
You're a keen golfer, too, aren't you? Does that serve as a pleasant distraction or does it tie you in knots? I'm a 12 handicap golfer, and I often play near my home in the evenings with my mates after training. I find it quite relaxing, but if you are competitive it can be frustrating. Generally you can control the frustration, but it is easier at some times than others. It depends how your life's going. If I'm in training, sometimes I get tight around the shoulders and that can affect my golf. That's my excuse. But it doesn't work - I get slagged off anyway!
You're pretty good at fencing, too, we hear. Building fences, that is. Yeah. Before I went full-time five years ago I used to earn some money helping a friend put up fences around properties, and gradually we moved on to building roads. I used to mix a lot of cement.
Your Scottishness got you into trouble with the International Olympic Committee before the last winter Olympics when you dyed your hair in the colours of the Saltire. Was it really a political gesture like they said? Not really. I turned up with it at Salt Lake, but the IOC said it was political because we raced for Britain, not Scotland. I ended up making the white cross blue, so my hair was all blue. But you could still see it anyway.
You won this year's 'Superstars' event on BBC, having come second the year before. That must have been pretty sweet? I wasn't sure I was going to win it, but I was quite confident because I've played a lot of sports and I enjoyed all the events they had. Probably the gym test and the biking were my favourites. I was expecting to do better in the tennis but I didn't do too well. Being a skier you have to have all-round fitness, you have to be very co-ordinated, your balance has to be tip-top and you have to have good upper and lower body strength. My competitors included John Regis, Iwan Thomas, Chris Rawlinson, Adam Hollioake and Du'Aine Ladejo. I think I did winter sports a bit of good. It was good to kick the arse of some of the summer boys. My cousin Lesley also did her bit - she has been first and third in the last couple of years.
What three words would you say best describe your character? Down. To. Earth.
Attachment: The Alain Baxter lowdown
* Born: 26 December, 1973.
* Lives: Aviemore. Club: Cairngorm Ski Club.
* Education: Kingussie High School. Left at 16.
* Promising ice hockey player with pro team Aviemore Blackhawks as a youngster before opting for a career in skiing. As a teenager, made the Scottish ski team along with his cousin Lesley McKenna, who later switched sports to snowboarding. Father Ian was Scottish ski champion in 1989 and a regular member of British team. Half-brother Noel also represented Britain in slalom at 2002 Olympics.
World rankings as a senior: 1992-93: 960. 93-94: 386. 94-95: 301. 95-96: 383. 96-97: 438. 97-98: 289. 98-99: 87. 99-2000: 105. 2000-01: 61. 01-02: 11. 03-04: 31. 04-05: 40.
* 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano: Slalom - crashed out. Giant Slalom: 31st.
2002 Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City: Slalom - bronze. Disqualified after trace of banned stimulant detected in urine sample. Medal was taken away, but no ban imposed.
* Best placing in World Cup finals: 4th (2001).
* BBC Superstars, 2004: 2nd. 2005: winner.
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