Tom Kelly: Perseverance — an Olympic story
It was a bit of a blustery ski day last March when Benji and I rolled off the Iron Mountain lift on the Canyons side of PCMR, pausing for a minute to gaze out to the ridgeline. He was at the beginning of what would be a nearly yearlong odyssey in hopes of making it to the giant slalom starting line at Beijing next month. I was leading him on a first tour of our entire mountain.
For Benjamin Alexander, Park City was a short but vital stop on a journey that would take him to a dozen nations, above the Arctic Circle and to over 30 international ski races at unheralded venues like Kolasin, Storklinten and Pyhatunturi. He would compete in national championships for nations like Timor-Leste (look it up, it’s not a ski country) and organize his own Jamaican nationals in the Balkan nation of Montenegro, which would attract skiers from 23 nations, all in the quest of lowering his FIS race points.
Last March, Alexander launched his ski racing career in earnest here in Park City at a series of International Ski Federation races on CB’s — little heralded events that became the start of his quest to lower his FIS points from somewhere in the 600s down to the IOC-mandated 160 in order to become the first alpine ski racer in the Olympics for Jamaica. Yeah, it’s a “Cool Runnings” story, for sure.
Today, two dozen races after his experience on the Olympic giant slalom run here, he looks back fondly on how far he has come. He recalls standing in the same starting gate atop the ridge where Bode Miller won silver 19 years earlier, literally staring down a gun barrel. He thinks back to the work Brent Amesbury from Park City Boot Company did with fitting to help him put pressure on his skis to dig into the icy race surface.
Alexander’s story is surreal. He grew up in a working class neighborhood of London, eventually emerging as a global DJ who worked in three dozen countries around the world. During a 2015 gig in British Columbia, just seven years ago, he was ferried up to a mountain top by helicopter. It was the first time he had seen skiing.
A few months later he went to Whistler to try it himself. But it was a visit to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang that truly opened his eyes. Why didn’t his father’s homeland of Jamaica have any skiers? And why couldn’t it be him?
So began his quest, using family heritage to connect with Jamaica and even seeking help from “Cool Runnings” legend himself, Dudley Stokes. He moved to Revelstoke and later Jackson to immerse himself, skiing virtually every day — tens of thousands of vertical feet.
Our Olympic buzz here in Park City has long centered on athletes like homegrown gold medalist Ted Ligety. But since that ski day with Benji last March, I’ve reveled in learning more about this cadre of passionate ski racers from little-known ski nations seeking their Olympic destiny by chasing points around the globe. I’ve followed him online to unheard of venues. I’ve watched the results and seen dozens of others chasing the same dream.
This Sunday, Jan. 16, the Olympic qualification clock will stop. For the hundreds of passionate young men and women playing the mathematical game of points chasing, their quest will end. Some will head to Beijing, and some will not.
I’ve watched Benji play the numbers, from 500-plus point results here in Park City and down into the 400s at Snow King three weeks later. I was buoyed when he kicked down into the 300s at Lutsen, Minnesota, in the spring then pushing into the 200s in Montenegro last month.
On our ski day last March I took pride in showing him around PCMR. For eight minutes he stretched his long legs out in the Quicksilver gondola, telling me his life story. We talked about DJing, his life growing up in the UK, diversity in skiing and more. But, most of all, we just had fun being outside, on skis.
I don’t know if Benji will make the cut this week. But I do know that in persevering on his quest, he has brought a lot of joy to those who have followed his story and said, “Hey, what about me?”
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). Inducted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2019, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This is his 52nd season on skis.
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