Return of Cool Runnings: British-born former DJ will become Jamaica’s first Alpine skier at the Winter Olympics, six years after he first took up the sport
A British-born former DJ is set to become Jamaica’s first Alpine skier at the Winter Olympics, just six years after he first took up the sport.
Benjamin Alexander, 38, whose father is Jamaican, will be the sole member of Jamaica’s national ski team at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing next month.
Alexander, who was raised in Wellingborough, near Northampton, will compete in the giant slalom event after finishing seventh in the discipline at the Cape Verde National Ski Championships in Liechtenstein earlier this week.
The athlete, who became an internationally renowned DJ who played at major festivals such as Burning Man in the US, only began skiing in 2015 while on holiday in Canada and has no full-time coach.
Alexander, who will be the 15th athlete to compete for Jamaica at the Winter Olympics, readily admits that he stands little chance against the sports elites – many of whom have been skiing since they were toddlers and have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into their careers over the years.
Instead, he hopes his improbable run inspires others, especially those from smaller countries and tropical climates, to chase any alpine dreams they are brave enough to nourish.
Benjamin Alexander, 38, whose father is Jamaican, will be the sole member of Jamaica’s national ski team at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing next month
Alexander counts Dudley Stokes, the pilot of the Jamaican bobsleigh team who competed in the 1988 Olympics, as one of his mentors who keeps in touch with every day.
Stokes’ efforts to qualify for the Olympics were immortalised in the film Cool Runnings, and Alexander recalls watching the film and thinking it was the ‘coolest thing since sliced bread’.
Alexander, who has an English mother and Jamaican father, said that without pioneers like Stokes, Jamaica may not have competed in the Winter Olympics yet and it would make his path to compete ‘incredibly difficult’.
Alexander wrote on Instagram: ‘I truly hope that my journey will lead the way for a whole new generation of athletic talent from under-represented races and nations in winter sport.’
He told BBC Sport: ‘They say never meet your heroes, but Dudley is awesome.
‘There are many favours that I owe to those heroic efforts of the 1998 team. I’m designing my race suit and I would love it to be a close, 21st century version, of the bobsled [kit]. Credit where credit is due, the saying is we stand on the shoulders of giants and they were the giants in my story.’
Dudley Stokes smiles back at his team members as they demonstrate the bobsled pushing form during a sending-off reception for the team at a Tokyo hotel on February 4 1998 ahead of the Winter Olympics
Alexander only began skiing in 2015 when he skied in Whistler, Canada, where he had been invited to DJ at a party.
‘I just chose one green run [the easiest] and I just kept doing the same run over and over again. The first time I went on this run I think I fell 27 times.
‘I think I finished at the end of the day having fallen on that run only seven times and for me that was progress.
‘That’s just how I’ve looked at this entire thing. Chipping away one little bit at a time and trying to get better each day.’
Alexander later met US skier Gordon Gray in 2019 who told him his technique was ‘atrocious’ but also that he couldn’t fathom how Alexander was able to keep up with him.
Alexander said: ‘He pulls me aside and says, ‘Benji, I’ll tell you what I see. Your technique is absolutely atrocious, I’ve never seen anything worse.
‘But you tell me you’ve only skied for 25 days, you’ve only had two lessons. Of course you don’t just learn this highly technical thing by osmosis, but what I can’t fathom for the life of me is how you’re keeping up with me. You’re a freaking lunatic, you’re fearless. The fact that you’re fearless means you have more than half the battle won.”
Alexander, who has an English mother and Jamaican father, said that without pioneers like Stokes, Jamaica may not have competed in the Winter Olympics yet and it would make his path to compete ‘incredibly difficult’. Pictured: Alexander skies down a slope during a training session at the Kolasin ski resort on December 21, 2021
Alexander explained: ‘He helped me understand that it would be within my reach if I truly applied myself and dedicated myself to it. I’ve been pretty much full-time on this mission since.’
Nearly three years later, Alexander is competing in the Beijing Winter Olympics this week as the first Jamaican to compete in the Alpine Skiing event.
He says that he hopes his experience shows the public that it doesn’t matter about your background – everyone has a place in winter sports.
‘If I’m able to start a sport at 32 and get to an Olympics at 38, then there is no excuse for anyone – whether they’re 40, 50, 60, to not go out and get some lessons and get some enjoyment out of skiing,’ he told Eurosport. ‘It’s not too late.’
‘When I began this mission, it was a really selfish pursuit – let’s see where I can take this for myself,’ Alexander said.
‘Then after the incident that happened last year with George Floyd, I’ve received so much attention and support as a result of people trying to champion diversity in winter sports.
‘Now, I almost feel like I carry this pressure to perform and to do this thing on my shoulders for diversity in winter sports, so it’s become much bigger.
‘I’m very excited to be that person that can show that it doesn’t matter what your background is, socio-economic or race, you have a place in winter sports.’
‘We are trying to inspire the next generations,’ Alexander said last month.
Alexander skies down a slope during a training session at the Kolasin ski resort on December 21, 2021
‘Even though you may come from Timor, India, or Jamaica, if you start young and you have belief, then maybe we can be elite countries in winter sports in a generation from now.’
Alexander came from a working-class background. He told Olympics.com: ‘My mother, my father and my brother have spent the most part of their working career either in factories or driving.
‘None of the three of them finished high school with any decent GCSEs or O-levels.’
But Alexander took a different path and earned a scholarship at a private school before studying physics and engineering at Imperial College London.
Whilst studying, he took up DJing but quit after two years in 2002 after someone was shot and killed when Alexander was queueing to get into a London nightclub.
He said: ‘I just thought to myself that is absolute stupidity. By day, I’m going to basically be at MIT – I went to the Imperial College of Science, Technology, Medicine to study physics – so by day, I’m doing this, and by night, I’m hanging out with people that are trying to kill each other and I gave up music almost instantly at that moment.’
Alexander then worked in finance in Hong Kong for years, before falling back into DJing. He ended up playing at the Burning Man Festival in the US and having a residency in Ibiza.