Winter Games longshots set sights on Olympic glory on Montenegro's slopes
Kolasin (Montenegro) (AFP) – After dabbling in modeling in Asia and later working in high finance in London, Benjamin Alexander's life took an unlikely turn in his early 30s when the Jamaican national took up alpine skiing and set his sights on Olympic glory.
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As the sole member of the Jamaican national ski team, Alexander faces an uphill climb to the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing in 2022, where he hopes to compete in the giant slalom event.
Alexander was among a dozen athletes -- including others from far-flung warmer climates like Morocco, Ghana, and East Timor -- competing in Montenegro's Kolasin this week, where skiers were hoping to rack up points in a final dash to qualify for the games in Beijing next year.
For Alexander, a trip to China for the games would cap an improbable journey for a novice skier who only first picked up the sport six years ago on a whim during a holiday in Canada.
"I went out without an instructor, I went down this run and I fell over 27 times," Alexander tells AFP. "I just kept doing the same run over and over and over and over again."
Since then, it's been constant improvement for the 38-year-old.
"I became obsessed," he adds, saying in the past two years alone he skied more than 450 days.
Alexander 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.
"We are trying to participate and trying to inspire the next generations,” says Alexander.
"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 is the latest in a long history of underdogs hailing from the Caribbean nation to harbour Winter Olympic dreams.
The Jamaican bobsled team made headlines with their dramatic debut at the 1988 games in Calgary with the improbable tale later retold in the popular 1993 film "Cool Runnings".
But for others competing in Kolasin this week, competing in Beijing also offers a chance to represent and bring wider attention to their countries that are lesser known to Alpine enthusiasts.
East Timor's Yohan Goutt Goncalves has already booked his tickets to Beijing.
Although he grew up mostly in France, Goncalves said he chose to represent East Timor, where his mother's family is from and his uncles fought for the Southeast Asian nation's independence.
"I said what can we do today to help out Timor and I thought the sports way could be a good way to represent the country," Goncalves tells AFP.
"A lot of racers have never heard about the country, so I am happy that I can share the story."
© 2021 AFP