For Scotsman, Alain Baxter – warmly referred to as “The Highlander” – skiing was in his blood; raised in Aviemore, his family still run a ski school to this day in Courchevel, whilst his cousin and brother have both competed professionally in winter sports.
Yet it was Alain who was tipped to be the pride of the Baxter clan, in addition to that of his nation, and fulfilled his potential when achieving an outstanding bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City – all the more remarkable when considering the reluctance of the powers that be to invest in such escapades compared to rival giants such as the US, Russia, China and Japan.
Baxter’s reign as the first ever Briton to achieve such an Olympic feat in skiing was to be incredibly short lived. As relayed to the press in the months following the incident, he headed out of the Olympic village the following day, after having just been photocopied swooning headlines from back home, then received a phone call informing him that he had failed his routine drugs test as traces of a banned substance had been detected in a urine sample. Immediately, he was to be stripped of his medal and slapped with an indefinite ban from competing.
The father of three’s world was in ruins; fearing a loss of sponsorship deals – vital to continuing his involvement with the sport – he racked his brain for days with a confusion equal to that of the governing body employee who had informed him of his costly violation.
Finally, Baxter pinpointed where he had gone wrong. In the build up to the big day, he had popped into a local Salt Lake City pharmacy to stock up on a Vick’s nasal spray he commonly used back in Europe to unblock his sinuses. Unbeknownst to him, however, the American counterpart of this common, everyday product contains elements strictly prohibited by the all-ruling International Olympic Committee.
Baxter eventually cleared his name but, rather cruelly, his bronze medal did not accompany a reinstalled sense of dignity. By November of that year, he was back in the US to compete at the World Cup in Park City, Colorado but never again made a ripple on the global stage following this poor showing with a 16th placed finish in Turin at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
— Batterski (@Battersea_Ski) March 4, 2016
Baxter would still continue to dominate at domestic level, however. Two years after his Salt Lake nightmare, he scooped another British slalom title – his seventh in total.
Though proven innocent, the Salt Lake incident had a profound affect on the future of skiing on British shores with athletes as recent as last year, notably choosing not to vilify Baxter and accepting that his treatment was rather unjust, complaining of their funding dwindling from close to £2million to just £600,000 by the time of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Pushed to such depths by this predicament but prepared to humiliate himself in order to pursue his passion, Baxter posed nude for a calendar in 2008 in an attempt to prolong his career. The year after, he decided to call it a day altogether with skiing at the age of 35 as back problems also had their say in his destiny.
That doesn’t mean other sports weren’t to be pursued. A proud Scot who once invoked the wrath of the British Olympic Association for painting his head with the St Andrew flag, Baxter maintained his connection to the little-known sport of shinty in which he had won the British Superstars competition in 2005 after falling short two years prior.
Track cycling is another interest, finally finding support from the Scottish Institute of Sport despite not achieving his goal of qualfying for the 2010 Commenwealth Games. Not to be deterred, he got to the final of the Red Bull Crashed Ice event only to have to pull out due to broken ribs.
— Fiona Daniels (@FionaDs) July 9, 2016
Now believed to finally be in retirement, Baxter runs a skiing shop near Glasgow that often sees him collaborate with some of the top brands in skiing equipment. Still angry with his treatment at the hands of the IOC, he claims to have moved on and has still etched his name in the history of British winter sports whether his rightfully earned bronze remains absent from his mantlepiece or not.