Lifestyle

Meet Jamaica’s first Olympic skier Benjamin Alexander

When Benjamin Alexander made the snap decision to try skiing for the first time he never imagined it would see him become a one-man Jamaican sporting revolution. But the 38-year-old from Northampton is due to become the first Alpine skier to represent Jamaica at the Winter Olympics today.

Alexander, an engineering graduate and former successful DJ, only took up the sport in 2015 but qualified for the 2022 Beijing Games, to compete in the giant slalom, at the Cape Verde National Ski Championships in Liechtenstein last month.

He represents a tropical country renowned for its Winter Olympic competitors ever since its four man bobsleigh team qualified for the first time in 1988, inspiring the Disney film Cool Runnings.

Jamaican bobsleigh teams have qualified several times since, including for this year’s games. But Alpine skiing is a first.

On the day Alexander qualified, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness posted a tweet congratulating the British-born athlete on “making history” with a photo of him holding the national flag.

“The Jamaicans are incredibly proud of their Olympic legacy and their Olympic heritage,” Alexander says.

“They never had a winter Olympian until 1988 and since then, we’ve had representation at every single games. So to be represented in a new sport is such a big thing for them. I have non-stop messages of support from Jamaicans on social media.”

Alexander grew up in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire to a Jamaican father and British mother. “Ever since a young age I’ve always taken on things the rest of my family would have thought impossible,” he says. “I’m the only person in my family to go into higher education. They’ve always seen me as an alien. But they’re incredibly proud.”

How did a man who started skiing at 32 earn a place at the Olympics as a black athlete in a historically white sport? It started with a DJ job in the Canadian resort of Whistler.

Alexander saw his friends zipping down the slopes “doing this incredible thing called skiing and I just thought it looked amazing” and he decided to try it for himself.

He booked a lesson that same winter and, after falling 27 times on his first descent, never looked back. “I definitely wasn’t a natural,” he says. “But I kept going and for me that’s what this whole thing has been about – putting your head down, focusing on small things you can improve upon one step at a time.”

In 2018 he left DJing behind. “I didn’t give up for skiing,” he attests. “It was time to move on and try something new. I didn’t want to be living in nightclubs and hotels anymore.” After a 10-day silent meditation in Japan he made the decision to take skiing seriously.

“I thought let’s see what happens if I go and ski for a month,” he says. “I had this crazy idea in the back of my head about potentially going to the Olympics. I have no idea what that means and how hard it would be or even if it’s possible, but thought let’s see.”

He went back to Canada and overnight swapped his “discombobulating” nocturnal lifestyle as a DJ for a “complete flip schedule” as a ski racer. “Suddenly I’m up at six in the morning and doing three hours of intensive training. I was struggling to stay awake past 5pm and absolutely loved it.”

He attended the 2018 Winter Olympics as a spectator. “I noticed that there were only three athletes representing my father’s country of Jamaica. I found that strange given the powerhouse that Jamaica is at the summer games.”

More on Skiing

But his decision to represent Jamaica was initially hinged on a joke. “When you’re a mixed race person you always represent the minority of the group you’re in and with skiing being predominantly white I was the black representative,” he says.

“People would shout Cool Runnings at me and say I should go to the Olympics. I was never thrown comments about Eddie the Eagle. So representing Jamaica was a really simple decision.”

He even recruited Dudley Stokes, one of the members of that famous 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team as his mentor. “I reached out and he gave me five minutes on the phone,” he says. “That first phone call lasted three hours. We then set up a call where we’d speak every week.”

He will speak to Stokes everyday ahead of his Olympic race on Sunday, 13 February. “Dudley has never experienced skiing as a sport,” he says. “But he can give me advice on how to feel good when you’re doing something that people think you shouldn’t be doing. The attitude that Jamaica shouldn’t be at the Winter Olympics. This is a very niche set of skills that Dudley has from experience. To have him in my team is huge.”

Qualifying brought Alexander a “huge sense of relief” but he’s not competing to win. “Absolutely not. I also have zero fear and zero pressure on my shoulders to perform. This is all about participation. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

As the latest pioneer in the Jamaican winter sporting revolution he hopes to inspire future generations. “I hope that in years from now we’ll look back and say, wow, Jamaica has had an alpine ski racer every single Olympics since 2022.”

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