C c c cool running: Michael Williams tries to help put Jamaica on ski map at world champs

By Pat Graham


BEAVER CREEK, Colo. _ So let’s get this out of the way early: Yes, Jamaican skier Michael Williams has seen “Cool Runnings.”

And yes, he’s asked about the film featuring the Jamaican bobsled team ALL THE TIME!

But no, he doesn’t mind. The story of the bobsledders showing up at the 1988 Calgary Games _ a journey that inspired the Disney movie _ actually motivated Williams to become a ski racer.

Just took some time _ more than two decades to be precise. The 45-year-old Canadian who lives in Germany and has Jamaican roots on his mom’s side didn’t even hit the slopes until 2 1/2 years ago. Here he is at the world championships _ his second one _ going through qualifying races in nearby Vail to try and make it into the starting gate for the giant slalom and slalom events this weekend in Beaver Creek.

Usain Bolt may be the fastest man on land, but I’m the fastest Jamaican on snow,” said Williams, laughing when asked if his popularity on the Caribbean island rivals that of the 100- and 200-meter world record holder.

Williams isn’t the only one who’s boosted the profile of Jamaica on the slopes. Errol Kerr competed in ski cross at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Shortly after his arrival in Colorado this week, Williams posted on his Facebook page: “Feel di riddim, feel di rhyme, get on up, it’s Jamaica Ski Team Time!”

Williams, who goes by “Jamaica Mike” is funded by the Jamaican Ski Team. His goals at worlds aren’t so much to keep up with Marcel Hirscher or Ted Ligety. No, his ambition is more modest _ don’t finish last.

Not only that, but Williams has a competition within the competition going with Haitian skier Jean-Pierre Roy. Whoever has the worst time between the two has to make a donation to the other’s foundation. Williams said he won the bet during the world championships two years ago in Austria, back when he was just starting out.

“I’m hoping to defend my title with him,” Williams said. “That’s really my big goal.”

It’s been quite an adventure for Williams, who was introduced to skiing by watching the 1988 Olympics. He tuned in for the Jamaican bobsled team and got hooked on skiing as well. He loved the way Alberto Tomba of Italy and Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland glided down the slopes.

That appealed to him. But so did American football. After attending the University of Western Ontario, he played professionally for a while in Europe as a quarterback and receiver.

At 43, an age when most ski racers are long retired, Williams decided he wanted to finally take up the sport. Not recreationally, but compete for Jamaica. In the beginning, he could only snowplow his way down the mountain. It didn’t take him long to pick up skiing and he competed in qualifying at the 2013 worlds _ with a torn ACL, no less.

Williams hasn’t had all that much time to prepare for worlds in Beaver Creek. Being a travelling sales manager for a Swiss watch company and raising a 16-year-old son takes up a lot of his time.

On weekends, he heads over to Austria to squeeze in some training.

“I’ve skied fairly decently for a guy who’s only been out here a couple of years,” Williams said.

Williams has never raced in a World Cup event or finished in the top 10 of an International Ski Federation competition, but he still stands out. Hard not to _ he wears a Jamaican green race suit and bright orange gloves given to him by a sponsor. He’s creating quite a following, too, just like the bobsledders.

“The first reaction I get when I tell people I’m a skier from Jamaica is always about ‘Cool Runnings,”’ said Williams, who stays in contact with one of the Jamaican bobsledders, Devon Harris. “Then people are like, ‘Are you serious?’ When I say I am, they always say, ‘That’s really cool. Good luck.”’

Who knows? Maybe there’s a movie remake down the road _ “Cool Skiings,” perhaps?

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