Cool re-runnings: Jamaican skier slaloms his way into history after qualifying for Winter Olympics

Jamaica has long punched above its weight at the Summer Olympics, but when it comes to the winter event, the tropical island rarely makes waves.

But a British-Jamaican skier hopes to change that, having qualified for Beijing 2022 despite at one point last year ranking just 3748th in the world. 

Benjamin Alexander, who grew up in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, had a career in international finance and then as a DJ before taking up skiing just six years ago.

He has among his mentors Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes, a member of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team, immortalised in the Disney film Cool Runnings.

In October of last year, Mr Alexander said he was ranked just 3748th in the world at giant slalom, his chosen event. 

However, the Winter Olympics has a lower barrier to entry for nations that don’t usually qualify. That allowed Mr Alexander, who has a Jamaican father, to “nerd out” over the International Ski Federations’ database and target the races he competed in.

On Wednesday, he secured qualification for Beijing 2022 by coming seventh in the Cape Verde National Ski Championships in Liechtenstein.

Mr Alexander took inspiration from the 1993 film Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsleigh team

Mr Alexander, who once worked in Hong Kong for an international financial company, told Olympics.com that he had spent “30-40 hours” plotting the races he needed to take part in and the times he needed to achieve to qualify for Beijing.

He was “trying to look for patterns, trying to look for races that might be a little bit more favourable”, he said, which included looking at how many people were competing in each race and targeting those with fewer competitors.

“I’ve totally nerded out on that database and I have my own version of it, my own spreadsheet, which has all of the links to all of the information about the race and the historical races, so at any moment, if I decide to change my plan, I can just go into my own database and figure it out,” he said. 

Jamaica’s first Olympic skier only sampled the sport for the first time in 2016, spending most of that time falling over. Within two years, however, he had settled on the idea of hanging up his DJ’s headset and becoming a professional skier. 

The East Midlands native knew he never had any hope of competing for Team GB with its well-funded athletes, but after watching the 2018 Olympics he realised that there might be a chance of donning the black, green and gold of Jamaica. 

In 2019, he spent a day working with a former US Olympic skier, Gordon Gray. Mr Gray told him that his technique was “absolutely atrocious”, Mr Alexander told the BBC this week, but despite that, he managed to keep up with his coach.

“You’re fearless, the fact that you’re fearless means you have more than half the battle won”, Mr Alexander said Mr Gray told him.

Unlikely Winter Olympians

From that base, Mr Alexander has built his international career. As recently as March, the Caribbean athlete was seven seconds off where he needed to be to qualify. He attributes his subsequent success to his inexperience.

“Because I’m coming from such a low base, my improvements are happening very very rapidly,” he said.

Being an outsider with little hope of a medal is not without its pressures, however. 

According to Mr Alexander, he initially looked to skiing as a “purely selfish pursuit”, but in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed there was a “pressure to do this thing and perform” as one of the few black athletes in winter sports.

Even now, a black man in professional skiing is a rare sight. “With my black friends, I’m the white person. With my white friends, I’m the black person. In skiing, I’m always the black person,” Mr Alexander told Time last month.

It also meant he faced the same ribbing on a regular basis: “I got the same joke on the slopes that any Jamaican probably gets when they’re near a winter sport: ‘are you part of the Jamaican bobsled team?’”

Rather than a slight, Mr Alexander, a fan of the 1993 film, took it as inspiration. 

“There is a little bit of pressure there being the one guy that’s going to go out there and do it, but I’m really happy to be that person,” he told the Daily Mirror recently, “I hope I can do us proud, both Jamaica and minorities.”

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