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Jamaicans prepare for Winter Olympics
Jamaican skiers, Gregg Samuels (left) and Errol Kerr, set off on a practice session. They have their sights set on next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Keisha Hill, Staff Reporter
THE JAMAICA Ski Federation (JSF) is in the process of preparing two team members to represent Jamaica in ski cross at next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
The JSF was founded in 1988, the same year the Jamaica bobsled team wowed the world at the Winter Games in Calgary, Canada, and was chartered with a view to entering teams in International Ski Feder-ation (FIS)-sponsored events.
President of the JSF, Richard Salm, said his son, Andrew, was skiing at the time in France and thought it would be interesting to represent Jamaica at the World Championships.
Jamaica's first Alpine competitors were Andrew Salm and Collette Gillian, who represented the country in 1999 at the World Championships in Vail, Colorado.
"They got a trainer and flew up to Denver in February 1999 and he and his teammate competed in the World Championships that year. They both completed the course and that is more than what a quarter of the competitors did," Richard Salm said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't get the funding to go to the Salt Lake City Olympics. So, that was the last time Jamaica was represented in an international skiing event."
Representing the country
Ten years later, Errol Kerr and Gregg Samuels will play similar pioneering roles by representing Jamaica at the Winter Olympics.
Twenty-two-year-old United States-born Kerr, a former member of the US ski cross team, has been yearning to represent Jamaica, the land of his father.
He recently acquired his Jamaican passport, and has now been released by the US. The International Ski Federation (ISF) has issued him a licence to represent Jamaica both in Alpine and freestyle ski competitions.
"Kerr started specialising in ski cross two years ago when the event started. Last year, at the X-Games, he came fifth, which is an incredibly good finish, competing against the best in the world. At the end of the season, he ranked 24th in the world and was second overall in the US," Salm disclosed.
Kerr, who was born in Brooklyn to an American mother and a Jamaican father, lives in Truckee, California. The young enthusiast has lived near all the major ski resorts and has been intrigued by the sport since age four.
"As a kid, he loved it and always wanted to become a ski racer. His mother contacted me about seven years ago and asked if he could represent Jamaica. At first, she had contacted Mike Fennell and he put her on to me," Salm said.
Kerr further explained: "My mom and dad met in Jamaica and were married for ten years and when my mom got pregnant with me they moved back to the US. My dad couldn't handle the culture change and he moved back and passed away shortly after."
His drive to represent Jamaica was instilled by his father and propelled by his observations of the accomplishments of Jamaican sportsmen and women worldwide.
"It's something I have wanted to do for a long time," Kerr said. "My father passed away when I was 14. My mom is the one who raised me and brought me out to California."
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Samuels was born in England to a Jamaican mother and English father. In October, he was granted Jamaican citizenship, but he will not be able to compete for Jamaica until June.
"During the summer, he skied in Australia for Great Britain. Even though he has the go-ahead to ski for Jamaica, you cannot ski for two countries in one season. So, while he is training with the Jamaican team, he is still representing Great Britain," Salm explained.
Salm, a former Olympian, said he was introduced to Samuels through the racing manager of the British ski team, with whom he skied in the 1964 Olympics and the 1962 World Championships.
"One of the girls who used to ski with me then is now the racing manager of the ski team. She mentioned to me that they had a Jamaican skiing for Britain. I spoke with his father and asked if he would be interested in representing Jamaica," Salm said.
"At the time, he said no. Four years later, he came back to me and said he changed his mind."
In the interim, Samuels had won the British Junior Championships. Since then, he has been in training with Kerr.
"During the winter, we ski about six days per week and during the summer, we travel to the Southern Hemisphere and ski for about two months," Kerr said.
Salm told The Gleaner that it will cost US$20,000 per month or about US$240,000 in all to sponsor the training programme from now until the Olympics.
"Both skiers are alpine competitors and they both have the requisite FIS points to enable them to compete internationally in alpine events," Salm explained.
Jamaica Beverages was the first to come on board with an initial sponsorship amount of US$25,000 to support the non-traditional sport.
Sponsorship has also been received form various other entities, including Digicel, Pan Jamaica Group of Companies, Air Jamaica, the Social Development Foundation and the National Commercial Bank Foundation.
"We would love to get some more Jamaican corporate sponsorship. It would certainly be good to get some even until the end of the season in April," Salm said.
Kerr recently competed at the Lake Placid Freestyle World Cup where he placed 17th in a field of 73, behind World Cup leader Andreas Matt of Austria.
Today, he will glide into action in the finals of the X-Games in Aspen, Colorado.