In February 2014 a small contingent from the Cayman Islands will be representing the country in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Although just a handful of representatives will be proudly flying the flag for Cayman, a huge amount of preparation goes into sending athletes to such high-level competitions. The rewards for such efforts have a ripple effect that bolsters the jurisdiction as a whole, allowing for a positive promotion of the islands on a global scale that would normally be prohibitively costly.
The logistics of flying a team to the Olympic Games for any country are enormous, yet for a small jurisdiction such as the Cayman Islands with limited resources, these logistics are particularly challenging.
This year, Cayman is preparing to send skier Dow Travers to Sochi in 2014 to compete in the giant slalom and slalom events for which he has a depth of experience, having participated in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, the first-ever Winter Olympic participant from the nation. David Carmichael is the team’s chef de mission, which means the smooth running of the entire operation is up to him. He also served as the team’s chef de mission for the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Massive advance effort
“I flew to Sochi last year to take a survey of the facilities while the site was under construction,” says Carmichael. “The project is massive. It’s expected to cost around $51 billion when completed, which is a lot of money when you consider the Vancouver games cost around $3.5 billion.”
Sochi was originally a coastal resort, so the entire Olympic area is being developed from scratch, including stadiums, hotels and other accommodation, roads and rail links. Because Sochi is on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia and Russia, it enjoys a relatively warm climate, so snow is being stockpiled by the Olympic organizers to ensure there will be plenty for the events.
Carmichael says the initial trip to Sochi was important for him to get to grips with Russian culture and business methods in order for him to work with the authorities to ensure the success of the mission. His duties while in Sochi next year will be broad.
“I will be attending security briefings, drug testing, handling the media and communications and generally facilitating our Olympic athlete during his stay,” he says, “all of which will require unique handling specific to how the country deals with such issues.”
For his part, Travers takes his Olympic training incredibly seriously. His brothers Dillon and Dean are also top skiers. Last year, Dean took the world number one position in the International Ski Federation rankings for 15-year-olds in downhill and super G, two of the four alpine disciplines.
“Every winter, my brother Dean and I train out of Aspen [Colorado] with our coach, former Olympic skier, Jake Zamansky and the Aspen Valley Ski Club, our local club. We usually train during the week and travel to races on the weekends,” says Dow Travers. “Training days will revolve around free skiing, where you work on technique and gate training, where you practice racing in a course.”
Travers says his day will start in the morning before the sun rises and end when he is too tired to ski constructively in the mid-afternoon. Then he watches the video, and in the late afternoon he heads to the gym for strength training and a warm-down for recovery.
“In the summer, it’s a hunt for snow. We usually have short camps on glaciers and then fly down to New Zealand or Chile for a month to train on winter snow,” he says.
The cost of competing
Funding for the Cayman Olympic team comes by way of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through its Olympic Solidarity Programs.
Jennifer Powell, chief operating officer of the CIOC explains: “The Olympic Games generate a considerable amount of income via television rights and sponsorships, and this money is funneled down to the 204 National Olympic Committees who participate in Olympic Solidarity Programs and the Games. Some of this money goes to the Continental Organizations, some goes directly to the NOCs to be used on education, development, training and etc., not just elite competition. When we compete in the Olympic Games or the Youth Olympic Games (summer or winter), it is almost entirely covered by IOC funding through specific grants.”
The grants cover such items as travel to official events and accommodations, as well as shipping the gear, but it is up to the national federations and their members to pay for a considerable amount of competition-related expenses, such as racing gear and equipment and travel to qualifying events to maintain eligibility. Alpine skiing, in particular, is an extremely expensive sport, and the majority of these costs fall to the athletes and their families.
Powell, who is also an athlete, represented the Cayman Islands in swimming in multiple international competitions, including the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. She knows the huge amount of effort, cost and discipline needed to reach the top of her sport but confirms it was all worthwhile the minute she stepped out in Melbourne to stand behind the Cayman flag.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling, walking out into the stadium for the opening ceremony. I took immense pride in representing our country. That was the moment I knew I wanted to study sport management, realizing the opportunity to work in a worldwide movement which benefits the Caymanian community in numerous ways seemed like the ultimate career,” she sayss.
Travers says having the emotional and psychological support of his family is an essential element, and adds it’s all worth the effort and that the Cayman Islands benefits from the positive publicity.
“I was very proud to carry the national flag at the Vancouver Opening Ceremony,” he says, “and that was of course televised globally.”
Cost benefit for Cayman
During the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Travers caused a media stir, with media outlets from around the world eager to hear about the success of an Olympic skier representing the flat, tropical Caribbean island called Cayman.
Carmichael says the young athlete did a fantastic job in facing the media and conducted himself with humor and eloquence.
Travers says, “There was a lot of pressure in Vancouver, sometimes 10 interviews a day, and then the need to balance training on the hill. Ski racing is very difficult because to do your best you have to ski on the edge of failure, but given the media pressure, I felt failure was not an option, so it created a real tension. But the media pressure was not in my control, so I tried hard not to worry about it. I just worried about what I could control, my race and my technique, and that took away some of the pressure.”
The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, a variety of ski publications and Vanity Fair magazine ran stories on his success. The Department of Tourism calculated that the earned media coverage of the event brought to Cayman $262,969 of positive press that circulated to 46,209,888 readers.
In addition, the Department of Tourism joins in to boost the positive publicity by enhancing Cayman’s image via donations of bumper stickers, magazines and posters. Tortuga Rum Company also provides rum cakes as gifts to those who assist the Cayman Islands delegation, as well as to be distributed at promotional events during the major competitions.
Despite the immense cost, time and effort involved in ensuring the Cayman Islands is represented at the Olympics, Travers says representing his country is a huge honor.
“My parents are both Caymanian, and I was born in Cayman and raised in Cayman. Cayman has always been my home, and I am very proud to be able to represent Cayman internationally,” he says. “It raises a great sense of pride in Cayman for us to see our athletes represented on a world stage, and I believe it only helps show Cayman in a great light internationally.”