UMB Alum Competes in Olympics

J.P. Goodwin

When Alexander Penna straps on his skis for the 50km Classic Cross Country competition at the Winter Olympics on February 23, he’ll be able to add to a long list of personal accomplishments.

Penna will be the first Brazilian to qualify for the Winter Olympics as a cross country skier. He’s also believed to be the first UMass Boston alumnus to compete in a Winter Olympics.

Alexander Douglas Penna graduated Magna Cum Laude from UMB, Class of 2000. He majored in Political Science, History and International Affairs (Independent Major). He was a graduate of the Beacon Leadership Program, and a member of the National Golden Key and Alpha Theta History Honors Societies. Penna is fluent in German, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and Greek.

“Alexander was always a very focused student. It does not surprise me that with his determination and effort he quickly picked up cross country skiing and rose to Olympic level,” said Donnna Neal, associate director of student life. “When he gets involved in things he does very well. I’ll be watching TV when his event comes up.”

After graduating from UMB, Penna went on to the University of Oslo as a US-Norway Fulbright Fellow, working towards an MA/PhD degree in Political Science. While attending school and working for Statoil in Stavanger, Norway, Penna pursued his dream of competing in the Olympics.

He had to put together a team to aid him in his training. He also put together a team of financial sponsors. Penna’s training staff includes a manager, a training coordinator, a press attache, technical advisors and physiotherapists. The Norwegian Olympic Committee and the Norwegian Ski Association have provided support during competitions. He may have been the only Brazilian skier on the slopes, but he was not alone during what he described as his three sessions a day “of frozen pain” on the Norwegian mountains.

Penna’s chief sponsor is Erling Lorentzen, whose wife is the sister of the King of Norway. He described the Royal Family as being “much more informal than I would have expected.” He’s also sponsored by his employer, Statoil, and Rossignol, Swix, Alpina, and Olympikus.

After a year of intensive training, Penna qualified for the Olympics on December 16. And while he doesn’t expect to take home a medal this time out, he’s already planning for the 2006 Torino games.