jamaica, lo and behold, has found a gold mine in winter sports. What began as an impossible dream, a wonderful madness, is today an indisputable reality that will allow the Caribbean country to attend the Beijing Games with the largest delegation in its history. They are the heirs of that historic bobsleigh quartet, today almost national heroes, who came to Calgary in 1988 with what they were wearing and to the astonishment of the rest of the planet. Today, on the other hand, their growing structure has allowed them to classify up to three teams in bobsleigh (men’s quadruple, men’s double and women’s individual), and for the first time they will send an alpine skier to the Games, Benjamin Alexander, entered in the giant slalom.
In Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, the average temperature is 32 degrees and the only snow that is remembered is on an old poster or on television.
The national sports hero is Usain Bolt, and behind him the rest of the sprinters who have impregnated national athletics with gold, of Merlene Ottey a Elaine Thompson. Yet the Winter Games have reached a similar level of devotion for more than 30 years. Why is this passion?
The reason must be found in the efforts of two American businessmen, George Fitch and William Maloney. In the summer of 1987, they were both working in Jamaica when they came across a curious entertainment among young people, a competition in which they pushed carts down the steep streets of the capital. It reminded both of them of a bobsleigh descent and, somehow, the next thing they were doing was creating the first Jamaican team in the specialty. They searched for sprinters in those same athletic schools where Bolt grew up, convinced of the enormous importance of the start to achieve the best time, but given the lack of success they decided to try in the Army. From there came three of the four components of that first Olympic team: Captain Dudley Stokes, Lieutenant Devon Harris and Private Michael White. The fourth, Chris Stokes, Dudley’s brother, joined at the last minute in Calgary, after engineer Samuel Clayton was injured in a fall. Chris, who is currently the president of the Jamaican Federation, had never ridden a bobs.
That first experience in Calgary did not end well. They trained for months on a concrete track in Jamaica and completed the training at the American station in Lake Placid, already on ice. They even got help to attend a course in Austria. However, a fall in the third series put them out of action in the Games. In the doubles, Stokes and White finished 30th out of 41 entrants. They came to Canada almost as an attraction fair and left converted into heroes. In 1993 Disney bought the rights to his story and immortalized it in the movie ‘Cool Runnings’, translated in Spain as ‘Chosen for Triumph’.
Jamaica continued to qualify their bobsleigh team until the Nagano 98 Games, with a 14th place finish at Lillehammer 94 as their best finish. In the spirit of the Caribbean country those 24 years of absence. The success comes signed by another quartet destined for glory: Shanwayne Stephens, Rolando Reid, Ashley Watson and Matthew Wekpe.
In between, Jamaica has continued to set milestones. In 2010, in Vancouver, they sent a cross-country skier, Errol Kerr. And in Pyeongchang 2018 they expanded their participation on the ice with the presence of their first female representative: Jasmine Fenlator-Victorian. They also premiered in skeleton.
A giant slalom
The novelty for the Beijing Games will be the participation of Benjamin Alexander in the giant slalom, one of the great events of alpine skiing. A DJ by profession and resident of Ibiza, Alexander started skiing just six years ago. In an interview on the BBC, he explained that he fell in love with the snow in 2015, during a trip to Canada. He explains that the first time he put on his skis he chose the easiest slope. “I think I fell 27 times”, He says. Since then skiing became his main occupation. He hired the American Gordon Gray as his coach just after attending the Pyeongchang Winter Games as an amateur: “He told me that my technique was atrocious, that he had never seen anything worse in his life, but that he was going to help me.” Between the two they have achieved a sufficient level for Alexander to arrive in Beijing without debuting in the World Cup, thanks to the criteria of the International Federation, which allows the participation of one athlete per country in certain tests.