Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics (117)

History-making Jamaica Alpine skier, Alexander Benjamin, believes the country possesses the attributes to produce top-quality skiers on a consistent basis and hopes to be the first of many.

At 38 years old Benjamin made history for the Caribbean after qualifying for the event at the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.  He is, however, the second skier to do so for Jamaica behind Errol Kerr who competed in Freestyle skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics where he finished in 9th position.  Kerr’s finish remains the best placing by a Caribbean athlete at any Winter Olympics.

Despite the fame garnered from the 1988 Winter Olympics four-man bobsled team, immortalised by the cult classic Cool Runnings, it is the Summer Olympics that have been the forte of the Caribbean island.

Led by Jamaican track and field legend Usain Bolt, Beijing was a happy hunting ground for the country’s Summer Olympic team in 2008, where they claimed 11 medals.  While Benjamin won’t necessarily expect that type of success, the newly minted Olympian believes there is plenty of talent to harness within the country and throughout the diaspora.

“What my story is all about is encouraging the next generation of Jamaicans to start before 32, so that we can have a real chance at medaling,” Benjamin told the SportsMax Zone.

“I’ve already identified three Jamaicans in New York, who started skiing when they were less than two years old, and they’ve been race training for the last 10 years.  So, they’re now 14 years old and these guys are going to come with force when we get to the 2026 Games,” he added.

“I think that we can get a really strong ski team from the pool of talent we already have in Jamaica and the diaspora.”

Benjamin has targeted being actively involved with the Jamaica Ski Federation (JSF).  Richard Salm the former president of the JSF died of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident last year.

 

 

A record number of coaches, who were last year registered by the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) for a rigorous hi-level coaches' course hosted by the Pan Am Sports Organization (PASO), successfully completed and are on course to achieve international certification.

Coaches from several sports including handball, badminton, judo, taekwondo, gymnastics, baseball, chess, volleyball, lawn tennis and track and field, completed, over six months, seven modules covering areas such as Coaching Philosophy and Leadership, Advanced Performance Planning, Energy Systems and Physiology, Strength and Conditioning, Sports Psychology, Advanced Injury Prevention, Recovery Strategies and High Performance Analysis.

"Capacity, capability and competency are the three Cs in the educational trilogy of the JOA's empowerment agenda for our coaches who are really the starters, drivers and finishers of the assets of sport development which are our athletes" President of the Jamaica Olympic Association, Christopher Samuda, commented on the success of the initiative.

Participants across the spectrum of sport have lauded the initiative as "groundbreaking and a step by the JOA in the right direction."

Ryan Foster, Secretary General/CEO of the Jamaica Olympic Association, was pleased with the level of support from the sporting federations and remarked "the response to JOA's call was deafening as it was instructive and demonstrates that coaches want to be and have become a part of the transformation being led by the JOA."

The JOA last year inaugurated its historic, "Olympic Scholars," an athlete scholarship grant, under which several persons benefited from financial assistance in academic and career pursuits. "This is money giving currency and value to athletes and this is an investment the dividends of which are capitalizing sport and the human capital" Foster said.

With a strong bi-lateral partnership with the United States Sports Academy (USSA), a strategic alliance World Eleven Inc and the Argentine Football Association and protocols of co-operation with regional and international stakeholders, "the JOA is instilling a culture of excellence in sport education and bringing the sciences and technology of sport into the equation of success." Samuda remarked.

The JOA will later this year make a call for another coaches' hi-level course and it is expected that it will be oversubscribed as stakeholders in the sporting sector continue to seize opportunities which the governing body is creating.

Jamaica Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (JBSF) High Performance Director Mark Silver has lamented the circumstances that saw the country’s women’s two-woman team edged out of the Olympic qualifying positions.

Up to last month, the women’s team of Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian and brake woman Audra Segree were favoured to be listed among the automatic qualifiers for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, among the world’s top 12 teams.  By the time January rolled around, however, a conflation of unfortunate circumstances had changed things entirely.  According to Silver, things began to go wrong from the perspective of the team at Latvia's Sigulda World Series where there was a Covid-19 outbreak.

“We did everything we could.  We missed out because of the weather and believe it or not Covid,” Silver explained.

How it works is there are races across the world, after Christmas, the first race was in Latvia, and unfortunately, 7 athletes couldn’t race, which meant that athletes that would have finished lower down finished higher and received points that they wouldn’t have if the race was full of athletes,” he added. 

“In another race, a massive amount of snow meant that athletes who raced later benefited from the snow being clear.  Now, with the snow it's part of the sport, we expect that.”

In the final standing, the team finished tied with France for the final spot but were edge out via the tiebreak.  The team could still qualify for the Games if France or any of the other 10 teams above them Germany, Canada, United States, China, ROC, Switzerland, Romania, Austria, Great Britain, Australia, or Belgium are unable to take part in the event.

“With Covid, the girls finished third overall on the NAC, and before Christmas, I would have said I was confident and with the press release, had it been what we had expected and predicted they were probably our safest option,” he added 

“However, things that changed but that’s sports.  For each bad thing that goes against you sometimes we get good things and fingers crossed we were bang on points, and who knows maybe this time around luck will go with us.  Hopefully not at the expense of anyone else but hopefully the girls will get to live their dreams as well because they worked so hard.”

President of the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, Chris Stokes, admits it is a special feeling to see the country’s four-man men’s team heading back to the Winter Olympics for the first time in 24 years.

Inescapably, whenever a Jamaica team qualifies for the Olympics, an inexorable link is made to the 1993 smash hit Cool Runnings, which starred the late John Candy and Doug E. Doug that went on to become a cult classic.

Unlike the movie, however, the hard yards put in to get to the Olympics, for the nation that has never seen a drop of snow, has always been real.

Stokes was a last-minute alternate when the team crashed the sled during the historic catapult down the ice in the four-man competition, in Calgary 1988, for the squad that would become immortalised in film.  He and others have pushed on ever since.  The team has subsequently appeared at another eight Olympic Games.  The men’s team, however, last appeared at the Winter sports spectacle in 2014 when a two-man team of Marvin Dixon and Winston Watts finished in 24th place and have not taken part as a four-man unit since 1998.  In the upcoming Olympics, the men’s team will make a triumphant return, but the team has also qualified for the two-man event and women’s monobob to appear in a historic three events.

“It has a special place in my heart to know that we will be in the four-man event once again at the Olympics, having been a part of that team myself (In 1988) it gives me great satisfaction,” Stokes said.

“It's not something that we take for granted it's hard work every time to qualify and it is a huge step for us to have three teams at the Games this year.”

With a bit more luck it could have been four, with the women’s two-woman team finishing just outside of the automatic qualification spots based on a tiebreaker.  The team could still appear at the Games having secured the position as the first alternate, should any of the automatic qualifiers withdraw from the event.

 “The two-woman team of Audra Segree and Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian were close.  They were in the qualifying spots for most of the way but in the last few weeks, I think some very questionable decisions were made when it comes to qualification.  I can’t say that I was surprised because these things happen, but it was unfortunate.”

The women’s team made its debut at the 2018 Winter Games with Fenlator-Victorian and Carrie Russell taking part in the event.  Despite the possibility of that team being left out this time around, qualifying three teams is not a feat to be scoffed at.

“We have an absolutely outstanding program and we don’t take it for granted.  We have a strong administration and an elite coaching staff that are wanted all over the world.”

Former DJ Benjamin Alexander will become the first man to represent Jamaica, in skiing, at the Winter Olympics after qualifying for the Games last week.

Alexander will make his debut in the men’s giant slalom and qualified for the event after finishing seventh at the Cape Verde National Ski Championships on January 12.

Born to a Jamaican father and English mother, the athlete, now 38, did not take up the sport until 5 years ago while on a visit to Canada.  Now he will number among a handful of Jamaicans, 14 to be exact, that have made an appearance at the Games.  The journey was anything but simple.

"The biggest emotion I have right now is relief. I have put my entire life into this, my savings, my reputation, absolutely everything. It's taken 200% of my all to get here,” Alexander said.

Like so many, Alexander admits to being a fan of cult classic Cool Runnings, the now immortal story that paid tribute to the appearance of the Jamaica team at the 1988 Calgary Games.

"Had it not been for that movie and my friends making jokes about me being like Cool Runnings I don't think this plan would have been concocted,” Alexander said.

He hopes at the very least to be an inspiration.

"I don't want to take anything away from the people who started from the age of two.

"My story is all about participation and hopefully inspiring the next generation of Jamaican children to start earlier than 32."

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