The Jamaican bobsled team seemed preposterous enough when it slid into Calgary in 1988. But now the Caribbean nation is building on its Cool Runnings notoriety by sending two skiers to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
The founding member of the Jamaica Ski Team is 22-year-old skiercross racer Errol Kerr, who holds dual citizenship thanks to his Jamaican father and American mother. Kerr was born in Brooklyn, grew up in the Bay Area, and skied Lake Tahoe resorts since he was 11. As a teenager, Kerr raced Super G and downhill at Squaw Valley. And until May, the Truckee, California, resident had never been to Jamaica, where the training facilities consist of just one lift serving a metal bobsled run. But Kerr feels a strong tie to his father’s homeland, where his brother still lives. “Jamaicans have been so supportive,” Kerr says. “Skiing for Jamaica, you really feel you’re bringing the whole island with you.” He hopes his representation will fuel Jamaican kids who aspire to ski.
Skiing for Jamaica also provides the financial assistance Kerr needs to mount a successful Olympic bid—funding he lacked when he represented America. A former member of the U.S. Ski Team, Kerr was on his way to qualifying for the U.S. in skiercross, a brand-new Olympic event that debuts at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Kerr is also appearing in the 2009 Warren Miller film, Dynasty. “Errol’s a great athlete, and we feel we provided an outstanding program for him,” says U.S. Ski Team Vice President of Communications Tom Kelly. “But with Jamaica, Errol’s put together a good program for himself, and we support his choice.”
Kelly explained that the U.S. package includes sports medicine, training, and marketing—each an important, albeit non-cash, resource. But the prospect of funding cemented Kerr’s decision to switch. For example, Jamaican cash allowed Kerr to train on snow throughout the summer—an opportunity that wasn’t available to him through the U.S., says Raul Guisado, who trained Kerr independently before becoming the Jamaica Ski Team coach. Kerr wouldn’t disclose the amount he receives from Jamaica, though he did say it’s supplemented by sponsorships, which leapt forward recently, since companies are anticipating greater visibility for him and because sponsorship opportunities aren’t regulated as they are under the U.S. team. For its part, Jamaica expects the Olympic partnership to generate positive publicity and stimulate tourism—the island’s primary industry.
The Jamaica Ski Team has since expanded to include the UK’s Gregg Samuels, another skiercross racer, born of a Jamaican mother and British father. And Jamaica’s not the only tropical island to court winter athletes: the Bahamas announced it will sponsor snowboarder Kory Wright, a Bahamian by birth who has lived in Canada since he was a toddler.
But Jamaica has a winter-sports legacy, if you will. And with Kerr and Samuels the country has hitched itself to an event that promises to be a huge spectator hit.
“Skiercross is almost like stepping into a cage fight,” says Kerr. “You have to combine the cool focus of alpine skiing with something more aggressive, more raw.” He developed that kind of grit by racing BMX and motocross, which Kerr still enjoys. He says the two sports have helped him achieve his current rankings: 24th in World Cup and second in the U.S. (behind Daron Rahlves). But he’s counting on Tahoe’s Alpine Meadows Resort to help him capture Olympic gold. The official home of the Jamaica Ski Team, Alpine Meadows provides Kerr with a full complement of training facilities, including a start gate—a critical apparatus for an event that rewards fast starts above all else. “Squeezing past other skiers going 50 miles per hour, wearing no pads, just a thin layer of spandex—there’s nothing cooler,” Kerr says. Not even Jamaican bobsledding.
- SKIING MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2009