Benjamin Alexander believes he can help carry on the tradition and legacy of Jamaica’s ballyhooed bobsleigh team, the Caribbean nation’s unlikely and improbable foray into winter sports first witnessed at the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics.
Thirty-four years after bobsleigh pilot Dudley Stokes and his Jamaican teammates competed and captivated the winter sports world, Benjamin aspires to do the same, not on ice, but on snow, ski racing, in giant slalom.
Naturally, Alexander has been enthralled by the 1993 Disney Film “Cool Runnings”, which humorously portrayed the story of Jamaica’s first-ever bobsled team. My personal favorite line uttered by one of the upstart Jamaican bobsledders is: “I am feeling very Olympic today.”
“Had it not been for that team and that movie, then I can say guaranteed that I would not be here right now,” Alexander tells Around the Rings. “If it wasn’t for the consistent jokes and sideways remarks about the bobsled team and ‘Cool Runnings’, I might not have even considered this idea. It was just how outlandish what those guys did and how it was beautifully captured in the movie.”
Alexander’s dream to take a shot at the Winter Olympics, while representing Jamaica, was also inspired by a trip to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, which he attended solely as an enthusiastic fan.
“Just shy of two years ago, because of what was going on in the world, I decided to make the decision to become a full-time professional athlete and pursue this dream of going to the Olympics,” Alexander said. “I was 36 years old and I thought when else in my life will I have this period?”
“Over the course of the last two years, I’ve skied over 450 days in pursuit of my goal – the only reason that number isn’t closer to 700-750 is because of my inability to access the Southern Hemisphere because of the pandemic.”
With approximately 40 days until the Beijing Games open and an even shorter qualification time-frame, Alexander has yet to punch his ticket for the Olympic giant slalom. He realizes time is not in his favor, but he remains optimistic that he can pull off some last minute heroics.
“It is going to be close, but it is an outlandish task that I still believe is possible, but I believe has been made ever that much harder because of the pandemic,” Alexander says.
Alexander, 38, the son of a Jamaican father and English mother, only stepped into a pair of skis for the first time about six years ago during a trip to Whistler, Canada, back when he was a spinning records as a globe trotting DJ.
Originally from Northamptonshire, U.K., Alexander has spent considerable time skiing and training in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Austria. He has kept fit pursuing yet another hobby, backcountry skiing.
Alexander has received strong support and encouragement from the Jamaican Olympic Association (JOA), although not funding.
“The president of the JOA Christopher Samuda said he is very keen for me to succeed,” Alexander said.
“When I met with him in January 2020, he said very clearly that he wanted his legacy to be making Jamaica successful in a much wider range of sports then just track and field, so I have their full support.”
Alexander receives gear and is sponsored by Atomic skis, Leki poles and Stio, a winter sports apparel outfitter in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He notes that he has also been greatly supported and encouraged by the wider ski community.
“The beautiful thing about the ski industry is that everyone has been so warm and helpful,” he said. “Almost everyone that I’ve come in contact with my story ends up helping out and that’s partly because of my persistence and tenacity.”
Jamaica and the Olympic Winter Games
Since Stokes and his four-man bobsled crew, competed and crashed, at Calgary 1988, only 14 athletes across three sports have represented Jamaica at the Games. Jamaica bobsleigh has qualified and competed at all Winter Games, except 2006 and 2010. In PyeongChang 2018, the warm weather nation was represented by the women’s two-person sled of Jazmine Fenlator and Carrie Russell.
Jamaica’s best Winter Olympic performance came in Vancouver 2010, when Errol Kerr charged to a ninth-place finish at the debut of ski cross. It remains the best performance by a Caribbean nation at the Winter Games.
While there are 2.7 million residents of Jamaica, who obviously don’t have easy access to skiing and winter sports, there are another two million living in the United States, Canada and Great Britain that do. Alexander hopes, following in the footsteps of Stokes, he can help create more pathways for Jamaican athletes.
Stokes, a four-time Olympian who now lives in Turks and Caicos, has offered inspiration and advice to Alexander, as the two communicate nearly every day.
“Dudley is awesome – he wrote the book on doing something outlandish to represent the Caribbean nations at the Winter Games,” Alexander said. “We talk about sports psychology, nutrition and he’s very helpful understanding why some things coming out of the Caribbean might be a little less organized, efficient and expedient.”
Pursuing the Winter Dream
Alexander is aiming to qualify for the Games under the International Olympic Committee’s B criteria, which is supported by the International Ski Federation (FIS) and encourages and offers some leniency for athletes from varied nations to compete at the Olympics. The IOC allows each nation to put one male and one female athlete forward under the B criteria, providing the athletes can demonstrate a certain level of professionalism.
“The new FIS president Johan Eliasch has made it clear that the diversity among small nations is something that he is keen to support,” Alexander said.
Alexander, who has worked with a variety of ski coaches and ex-racers, has a top result that is about 2.4 seconds shy of Olympic qualification with the race clock ticking. To add to his uphill challenge and difficulty, Alexander is just getting over a case of COVID-19.
Alexander, who possesses an engineering degree, is strategically calculating and plotting his course over the weeks ahead, planning to compete in FIS races in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is also in discussion with potential ski organizers in Poland and Lebanon.
“It is going to be close, but it is an outlandish task that I still believe is possible, but I believe has been made ever that harder because of the pandemic,” he says.
Alexander’s greater motivation is not only to inspire athletes from non-traditional winter sports countries, but also blacks, minorities and anyone who has ever dreamed big.
“We need more big stories, people that will make a splash and help spread this to the masses,” Alexander said. “We need more ambassadors of the sport to show people that we are accepted and we can excel.”
If Alexander can defy the odds and punch his ticket to China, it will certainly be a winning scenario for many – the Olympic Games, winter sports, FIS and the IOC, the sport of skiing, minorities, underprivileged athletes, and naturally the island nation of Jamaica. And of course, the man who persevered as an unlikely winter sports trailblazer way back when, Dudley Stokes.
C’mon Mon! C’mon Benji! You can do it Mon!
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