He is Jamaica’s first Olympic alpine skier, but Benjamin Alexander was a late developer when it came to spending time on the slopes.
A former DJ who has graced the stage at the Burning Man festival, the 38-year-old only discovered his love for the sport at 32, after a chance encounter with friends.
That was in 2015 when Alexander was invited to DJ in Canada, and found himself at the top of a mountain with a group of friends.
“I never skied before at that time,” Alexander told CNN. “They flew us up in the helicopters at the top of the mountain to meet the skiers for lunch. And growing up in England and spending most of my DJ career in warmer climates.
“I’d never experienced anything like this before, I was just taken aback by the surroundings.
“And then the icing on the cake was to watch my friends pop into skis at the end of lunch and just disappear. And I thought that was fantastic.
A few months later, in February of 2016, Alexander had his first lesson in Whistler and “it’s just been kind of a steady progression since,” he says modestly.
Initially, Alexander wanted to get good enough at skiing to keep up with his friends.
“As I got good enough to kind of ski with them socially, being the only Black representative in the group, even though I am only half Black, and being of Jamaican heritage, people kept throwing jokes, sideways jokes at me about ‘Cool Runnings,’ the Jamaican bobsled team and, ‘you should go to the Olympics,’” Alexander told CNN Sport, referring to the 1993 hit film about the unlikely story of the Jamaican four-man bobsleigh team’s bid to get to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary,
Alexander went to the PyeongChang Games in 2018 as a spectator, and started to wonder if he could compete at that level.
“One of the things I noticed, other than thoroughly enjoying the spirit of the Olympics, was that there were only three Jamaican athletes in attendance.
“It took me aback knowing how strong Jamaica is in the Summer Games, knowing how popular that movie ‘Cool Runnings’ is.
“I kind of had this idea in the back of my head: let’s see if this is possible. I thought the most likely outcome was death or at least a serious injury,” he told CNN.
So Alexander booked a month-long trip back to Canada to ski, where he met former Europa Cup level ski racer, American Gordon Gray.
“When we sat down for lunch, he said, “Okay, I’ll be brutally honest. Your technique – absolutely atrocious – the worst I’ve ever seen.”
But to Alexander’s surprise the Jamaican could keep up with the American, who had been skiing for 40 years.
Despite critiquing Alexander’s technique the American skier told the Jamaican that he was “absolutely fearless.”
According to Alexander, Gray added: ‘If you’re afraid you’re never gonna get any work done, even with all the technique in the world. But if you’re fearless, then we can teach you technique and I think there’s a chance.”
In just 22 months, Alexander shaved down his FIS race points from over 600 to under the required 160 point minimum.
By January, he had secured the last of the 160 International Ski Federation (FIS) points needed to qualify for the games by finishing seventh in the giant slalom at the Cape Verde National Ski Championships in Liechtenstein.
Fast forward to 2022 and Alexander will on Sunday represent Jamaica in the Winter Games.
“Qualification – that was the finish line that I was running towards everything else now above, above and beyond. This is just the icing on the cake. I’m competing with people that have been skiing since the age of two ski racing since the age of four.
But getting to Beijing 2022 wasn’t easy.
“I’ve cut myself a gazillion times on my skis, I’ve cracked ribs. I’ve had so many injuries. There’s been lots of sweat; it’s been hard, hard work,” he said.
“Especially during the first (Covid-19 enforced) lockdown when the chairlifts stopped working and I spent my time climbing up mountains so I could continue skiing.
“I basically did 100 days of back-country skiing and climbed the equivalent of 10 Mount Everests with skis on my back and ski boots on my feet,” he added.
Alexander counts Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes – one of the members of Jamaica’s first Olympic bobsled team – as one of his mentors, and wants to offer his own guidance to Jamaica’s newer Olympic hopefuls.
“I am from a working class background – my parents were both drivers, my father was a bus driver for most of his career, and no one in my immediate family skied,” said Alexander, who wants his story to be a “beacon of light” and show “it is still possible to get there.”
“I think the important point is it’s going to be hard at the start, but you just have to persevere.”