Benjamin Alexander to make history for Jamaica at Winter Olympics

He will become the first athlete to represent Jamaica in an alpine skiing event

 Benjamin Alexander during a training session at the Kolasin ski resort last month. Photograph: Savo Prelevic/Getty Images

Benjamin Alexander during a training session at the Kolasin ski resort last month. Photograph: Savo Prelevic/Getty Images

 

The spirit of Cool Runnings is set to be rekindled next month when Benjamin Alexander, a 38-year-old from Northampton, will become the first athlete to represent Jamaica in an alpine skiing event at the Winter Olympics.

Alexander only took up skiing in 2015 and has no full-time coach, but he secured qualification for the Beijing Games on Wednesday when he finished seventh in the giant slalom at the Cape Verde National Ski Championships in Liechtenstein.

A strategic approach and fearless technique have led the engineering graduate and former DJ not only to make sporting history but find success as a black athlete in a historically white sport. He counts amongst his mentors Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes, one of the members of the men’s bobsleigh team whose journey from the Caribbean to the mountains of Alberta became the subject of a hit Disney film.

“Qualified Olympics baby” read the message on Alexander’s instagram account less than seven years after he was first exposed to skiing on a trip to the Canadian resort of Whistler. Alexander says he saw those racing down the slopes that day as ‘almost like superheroes putting on these skis and just disappearing,” but he took up the sport that winter and, after falling 27 times on his first descent, never looked back.

Alexander is the child of a Jamaican father and an English mother. Raised in Wellingborough outside Northampton, he had a working class upbringing. “My mother, my father and my brother have spent the most part of their working career either in factories or driving”, he has said. “None of the three of them finished high school with any decent GCSEs or O-levels”.

Alexander however was acknowledged as a gifted child and earned a scholarship to a private school before studying first physics then engineering at Imperial College. A parallel life as a DJ, first in the UK and then internationally saw him earn a residency at America’s Burning Man festival and he has also worked in finance in Hong Kong.

A motivational speaker, Alexander bills himself as a ‘reinvention expert’ and has used skills learned in his other careers to develop his pursuit of skiing success. “I’ve been to 67 countries, I’ve spent a lot of my life on the road”, he told Olympics.com.

“I’ve always loved to travel and a big part of my previous role as a DJ was getting myself out there marketing myself in the right way, figuring out ways to get into venues, clubs and festivals that I wanted to perform at. I never hired the services of a manager or agent as a DJ because I wanted to do it my own way.”

He built a support network that included Stokes and the American skier Gordon Gray, who called Alexander’s technique “terrible” but observed his lack of fear would give him a headstart in competition. He devoted himself entirely to his sport, basing himself in Austria, but building a strategy to enter the Jamaican Olympic team after a visit to the last games in Pyeongchang.

He went on to use his analytical skills to divine from data held by the International Ski Federation what times he would have to reach if he was ever to qualify, with some routes to Olympic qualification spots left open for countries without a history of winter sport success. “I’ve totally nerded out on that database”, he said.

Alexander will become only the 15th athlete ever to compete for Jamaica at a winter Olympics. The first were the bobsleigh team of 1988 who qualified, crashed out of competition, finished in last place and entered into history. “You’re going to have to have the determination to suffer and to struggle but to have pride and power,” is Stokes’ advice to the former DJ of UK Garage, “that’s the attitude you’ll need.” – Guardian

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