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Living Black History: Jamaican Skier Errol Kerr

Date: Friday, February 12, 2010, 6:21 am

By: Frederick Cosby, Special to

Sports fans are accustomed to seeing the bold green, black and gold colors of Jamaica streaking across the finish line of a race. They’re just not used to seeing someone do it on skis.

Errol Kerr hopes to change that as a member – the lone member – of Jamaica’s Winter Olympics team in Vancouver. Kerr, a ski cross racer, will carry Jamaica’s flag at the Games’ opening ceremonies and the hopes of an island nation that – despite its participation in previous Winter Games – is viewed with curiosity when it comes to winter sports.

“When people hear of a Jamaican skier, they expect dreads hanging out the back of my helmet and a smoke stream following me,” Kerr told the Tampa Tribune.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team’s appearance at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary inspired the loosely-based Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” The Jamaican bobsledders failed to qualify for the Vancouver Games.

Kerr, a Brooklyn-born 23-year-old with dual U.S.-Jamaican citizenship, is looking to do what the bobsledders didn’t: Win. He’s in Vancouver to follow in the footsteps of Jamaican superstar sprinter Usain Bolt and bring his Caribbean nation Olympic gold.

“The bobsled guys laid the groundwork and put us on the map,” Kerr told The Times of London. “But I’m very serious, and by the time I’m done, Jamaica will be a recognized force in Alpine skiing.”

Kerr competes in the Winter Games’ newest sport, one that pits four to six skiers against each other in a race down a technically demanding course with artificial and natural rollers, jumps, banked turns and tabletops.

“You don’t have to be a student of the sport like in Alpine racing – there are four guys, and the first down wins,” Kerr told The Times. “There is contact at 80 miles an hour, but the idea is not to go out there and kill each other.”

Kerr, a Truckee, Calif., resident who trains near Lake Tahoe, has performed well in previous contests. He finished in ninth-place at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado recently and is currently ranked 31st in the world in his sport.

“Errol has the attention of everyone else that out there,” his coach, Eric Holmer, told USA Today.

Kerr began skiing at age four and skiing competitively as a downhill racer at age 11. His skill earned him a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, but he left the team two years ago to compete for the country of his father’s birth.

“He never skied a day in his life,” Kerr told The Times of his father, who died when Kerr was 14. “But I’m doing this for him. I’m proud of my heritage. It’s in my blood.”

Kerr’s been on the rise since. He finished 12th in his World Cup ski cross debut in Les Contamines in January 2008, followed by an eighth-place finish at Meiringen-Hasliberg that March. He placed 13th in a competition in St. Johann in Tirol and 15th in Lake Placid. He captured 10th place at the worldwide ski cross championship last year in Japan.

His progress has been hampered somewhat by being a one-man team with just enough funding to cover the costs of entering tournaments, travel and training. But his feats on the slopes have led to fashion: Spyder Active Sports, the world’s leading ski apparel brand, is supporting the Jamaican ski team and designed its boldly colorful uniforms, with Kerr’s input.

“The opportunity for Spyder to work with Errol Kerr and the Jamaica Ski Team is awesome,” said Phil Shettig, Spyder’s product director. “Errol is a unique athletic talent and will no doubt blow minds inside and out of the ski racing establishment.”

Jamaica won’t be …..

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