Jamaica has never had an alpine skier compete at the Winter Olympics.
But with just six months until Beijing 2022, a former DJ who had never worn skis until five years ago is hoping to change all that.
Benjamin Alexander, who has a British mother and Jamaican father, has heard all the Cool Runnings jokes and is embracing the Caribbean island’s underdog spirit.
“Cool Runnings is definitely part of the inspiration here, no doubt about that,” said Alexander, who was born in Northampton.
Alexander, who will be 38 by the time the games takes place, studied electrical engineering at University College London, and three days after his final exam headed to Asia, where he tried modeling before ending up working in finance in Hong Kong.
He then spent a decade working as a DJ, playing in 30 different countries.
He first tried skiing in 2016 when he was invited to DJ at what he describers as a “swingers’ party” at the Canadian ski resort of Whistler, British Columbia.
The following year he hit the snow at California’s Mammoth Mountain, before attending the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea as a spectator.
It was there that he decided that his next big challenge was to try and qualify for the 2022 games in the giant slalom.
“I was looking for the next big thing in my life, and decided to go full bore, embrace the challenge and try to make it happen,” he said.
And he says that the 1993 Disney movie, which told the story of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team that had never seen snow before, was a major motivation.
“Because of the success of that movie and the outlandishness of that team, whenever I was skiing people would jokingly always refer to that,” he said.
“So the concept of doing something out of the ordinary, something that is truly impossible, was always being brought up in my interactions with skiing by virtue of my Jamaicanness, that was what really pushed me in that direction.
“The interesting thing is that as a mixed race person, you always represent the minority of the group that you are in at the moment.
“So hanging out with my Black friends I was always the white guy and vice vera with my white friends.
“So obviously skiing being quite a white sport, I was always the Black representative, and it just kept coming up over and over again.”
Jamaica has had one ever skier at the Olympics, Errol Kerr, who took part in ski cross in 2010.
The IOC allow every nation to put one “B criteria” athlete in each winter games discipline, who are not likely to medal but who are also of a high enough standard to take part.
More than 100 men raced the 2018 Olympic giant slalom, including skiers from non-traditional winter sports nations Brazil, South Africa and Cyprus.
Alexander will need to have an Olympic qualifying score of 160 points by 16 January to make the games, and is currently at 300 having started out at 1,000 points.
He says that this time last year he was 60 seconds off the qualifying pace required for the race, but his last run was just seven seconds off.
“As with the bobsled team, this allows the next generation of kids to be inspired to get involved in sports they otherwise would not,” he added.
“It has been my only focus for the last two years. I am feeling good about qualifying. I have skied 350 days in the last 18 months and the only days I have not are when I was not able to get to snow.
“It turns out that getting to the Olympics at the moment is more to do with fighting Covid and the restrictions it has caused than fighting competitors and the sport itself.”
He added that despite not getting as much training in over the summer as he wanted, he is still on pace to qualify for Beijing.
“If I could have gotten into the southern hemisphere at the start of their winter and had another 100 days of snow I would have said it was undeniable and not problem, having had that taken away is difficult but it is still possible,” he added.
“The only curveball that could stop me achieving olympic qualification status is if Covid kicks again in Europe at the start of winter and the travel between European nations becomes complicated and requires quarantine, then that becomes difficult.”
Alexander says that Jamaican Olympic official have been “awesome” in their attitude towards him and supportive of his efforts.
“When doors have needed opening they have done that and written letters of support for me, but this is for the most part still self-funded,” he said.
“It is hard to ask a small Caribbean nation for money to go and do this bougie winter sport that most people in the country will never experience or even see with their own eyes.
“Once I officially qualify I think there will be a lot of companies that want to jump onboard and help out financially.
“I think a lot of people want to help support diversity in winter sports and a lot of my sponsors have just been interested in my picking up the sport at the age of 32 and getting so much out of it.”
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