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Ja hype captures ski world

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

In this photo taken December 14, 2009, skier Errol Kerr, who will represent Jamaica in the Vancouver Olympics, is seen after a practice at his home in Truckee, California. Most Jamaicans have never seen snow, but a young skier will be wearing the tropical island's colours to Vancouver's slopes in 2010, and could bring home the Caribbean's first Winter Olympics medal. Kerr, born to an American mother and a Jamaican father, grew up a dual citizen between the Lake Tahoe region of the Sierra Nevada, where he moved with his mother as a child, and Westmoreland, Jamaica's westernmost parish.

Andre Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter

Minister of Sport, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange is thrilled following the qualification of Jamaican skier Errol Kerr to next month's Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, and underscores that it presents several opportunities for the island's sports tourism thrust.

Jamaica's black, green and gold will be a major talking point on the slopes in Vancouver and the minister is hoping that the country will be able to capitalise on the exposure that Kerr's performances have already been generating.

Kerr, who was born in the US and represented that nation for some time before changing his allegiance to Jamaica, the nation of his father's birth, will wear the island's colours in the ski cross event at the February 12-28 spectacle.

The 23-year-old who, according to several pundits, stands a good chance of medalling in the event, has been attracting significant attention from the international press, and Grange believes that the country stands to benefit from the California native's historic exploits.

Great news

"It's great news for Jamaica. I think we are going to have the same kind of impact that we had at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the World Championships last year and also when the bobsled team entered the (Winter) Olympics," said Grange. "It has started to generate a lot of attention and it's a good platform for our sports tourism efforts for example."

Kerr has been taking the snow by storm, racking up impressive performances across the circuit with encouraging showings in Austria, France, Canada and the US among his better placings. Kerr announced his potential to the world with an explosive fifth place ski at the Winter X Games, making him a clear candidate for a podium spot at the Olympics.

Kerr's impact

Such is Kerr's impact among the international skiing fraternity, that his kit provider Spyder, which has a Jamaican line of products ranging from US$28 in cost to just under US$300, recently reported that the items were sold out and that some were even being worn by skiers from other countries. He has also cultivated a large Internet following across the world, as enthusiasts gravitate towards the skier's spirited personality and Jamaican roots.

Grange believes that the novelty of a Jamaican skier will help the country's sports tourism drive.

"The whole concept of Jamaica, a tropical country, participating at the Winter Olympics in an event such as ski cross is such a novel idea, such an unusual idea that it has mesmerised the ski world," Grange offered.

"Spyder is promoting the Jamaican line of ski gear as a hot item and so what it has done is open up another market for us. That's a market and a public that has money to spend, which is another aspect of tourism that is important to Jamaica. This is a perfect example of sports tourism being used to drive tourism as a part of brand Jamaica."

Richard Salm, president of the Jamaica Ski Federation believes that the youngster stands an incredible chance of finishing among the medals.

"He (Kerr) is one of the top competitors. If he gets a decent start, he is as good as anyone in the world. He has had a number of top-10 finishes and qualified second on three occasions last year in World Cup races which means he has the speed," said Salm. " He is certainly fast enough and deals with the terrain extremely well and this is extremely important in ski cross."