Motivated mainly by the Jamaican bobsledders whose story inspired the movie, Cool Runnings, Montreal-born Michael Williams is attempting to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Sitting in the living room with his Jamaican-born mother and grandmother, the then teenager was fascinated by athletes from a warm weather country competing in a winter event.
Little did Williams know that, 24 years later, he would be on a unique journey similar to the bobsledders who rose to prominence at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Having put on skis for the first time two years ago, he’s seeking to qualify for the Olympics in the slalom and giant slalom.
“I grew up playing ice hockey and had a passion for winter sports,” said Williams, who also enjoyed watching alpine ski racers Alberto Tomba and Pirmin Zurbriggen at the Calgary Games. “Skiing was something that fascinated me. Now I am living in Europe with beautiful resorts and mountains everywhere, you have a recipe for me that’s perfect. Skiing is a huge part of European culture and I see it every day.”
If he makes it to Sochi, it will be under the Jamaican flag, as he holds dual citizenship. The journey, however, will not be easy.
Beginning last July 1, he has up until January, 2014 to decrease his personal rating to 120 World Ski Federation points. Starting out with a 1,000-point rating, Williams is now down to 737 points after completing one of two giant slalom races last season.
“My points are shaved off based on the difficulty of the race and the amount of top skiers and their points,” said Williams. “The more races I ski in with racers with fewer points, the better my points will be if I finish. It’s a weighted system so my team and I need to be strategic in our race planning. Sometimes it’s difficult to ski in difficult races to lessen your points quicker provided you finish, but you will most likely finish near the bottom of the standings in the race. Other times, it’s good to ski in races that are not so difficult where you have a chance to finish a little higher up.”
Williams started his outdoor training program this week at Stubaier Glacier to prepare for the 2012-2013 season that starts later this month. He intends to begin competing in November in events in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
However, funding will dictate the number of events Williams takes part in during the season, which ends next May.
“This is an expensive sport and I am looking at spending between Can$30,000 and $50,000 this season on travel, hotel, coaching and training even though my equipment costs are covered,” he said.
Williams was in Toronto last week for the first of two fundraisers organized by close friends who are supporting his dream. The second event takes place on January 19 at a venue to be announced.
His ski journey began in earnest two years ago after watching Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, “The Snow Leopard”, and Errol Kerr compete in the Vancouver Olympics. Raised in Ghana, Nkrumah-Acheampong learned to ski on artificial slopes in England – his birth country – seven years before the Games.
Born in California, Kerr represented Jamaica and finished ninth in ski cross.
“After seeing them compete, I jumped in my car and headed to the Alpine Ski Club looking for help to pursue my dream,” Williams said. “I met Andre Hurlbrink who believed in what I was trying to accomplish and he put me in touch with Matthias.”
Williams is dedicating his journey to two special people – his cousin, Andrew Williams, and close friend, Kris Risk – who passed away in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
“Both of them inspired me go to after my dream when I told them what I wanted to do,” the Northern Secondary School graduate said. “Andrew always told me to reach for the stars and if I missed, I would land among the clouds. When I shared my dream with Kris, she looked me dead in the eye and told me to go after it. I will never forget that moment.”
Sandhurst-trained former Jamaican Army officer, Devon Harris, has reached out to Williams with words of inspiration and hope. Based in the United States, Harris was a member of the Jamaican team that completed the four-man race at the 1988 Calgary Olympics despite a spectacular crash when driver Dudley Stokes lost control of the sled while coming out of a challenging turn on the track.
The Jamaicans finished 30th in the 42-team race.
By RON FANFAIR
“Devon is helping me with his stories to keep pushing on as he would say,” the married father of a 14-year-old son said. “He understands the hurdles I face in trying to balance work, family and training at the same time and the difficulty in securing sponsorship. He keeps me motivated to keep pushing with his fantastic stories from the past. It’s incredible the amount of belief and conviction this man has and I hope I can have a fraction of what he has to continue on my path. He’s a true pioneer and inspiration.”
Williams has been involved in sport for most of his life. He won three city championships in five years with the Northern Red Knights football team and represented the University of Western Ontario in track & field and football before heading to Europe to play and coach in the European Football League.
He returned home to coach the York University Lions for four years until 2004 before going back to Europe to become the offensive coordinator with the Czech football team. He has been residing in Frankfurt, Germany for the past six years.
While happy to reunite with family and close friends during his brief visit, Williams was looking forward to meeting his father, who resides in the Greater Toronto Area, for the first time.
“I am not bitter at all that he has never been part of my life,” said Williams, who turned 43 last October 6. “I would like to meet him, let bygones be bygones and just move on.”
By RON FANFAIR