Africa’s first bobsled team at Winter Olympics

Nigerian Women's Bobsled Team [AP]
Nigerian Women’s Bobsled Team [AP]

Seun Adigun and fellow former runners Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga will represent their nation as the first-ever Nigerian bobsled team in next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

But they won’t just be newcomers to the sport. The trio is the first men’s or women’s bobsled team from Africa at the Winter Olympics.

“Nigerians are so excited to see the country being represented,” said Adigun, a Chicago native who is also a three-time national track champion for Nigeria. “I realized exactly what was a void from the country of Nigeria, from the continent of Africa, and for women, in general, being represented.”

Onwumere, 26, agreed, adding: “To be the first to do anything is, I think, it’s just something that you can’t really explain.”

Their story will likely take on added meaning next month, after US President Donald Trump recent remarks about Africa’s “shithole countries”.

The team say they’re excited to walk into the stadium in Pyeongchang next month, and have been working hard to be competitive as rookies among a pool of talented and experienced bobsledders. Their main goal is to be an example for their country and for women in the sport.

Their journey to South Korea  has also been a fast one. Three years ago, the team was little more than an idea, a “crazy but amazing journey”, said Adigun, the driver in role and personality who also helped recruit and coach Onwumere, who hails from Dallas, at their alma mater, the University of Houston.

Yes, they get the comparisons to Cool Runnings – the 1993 film based on the true story of Jamaica’s first male bobsled team, who competed in the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada  and say it’s a legacy they embrace and a following they hope to emulate.

A medal is almost too much to think of, said Omeoga, 26, who ran track at the University of Minnesota.

“That actually has never even crossed my mind yet,” she said. “I’m just taking things one day at a time: Don’t get too ahead of yourself, don’t get too behind yourself, don’t sell yourself short on anything.”

The Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria was formed. A GoFund Me campaign was created in 2016, and the team raised more than $75,000 in 14 months to pay for necessities like helmets, uniforms, travel and their first sled – a wooden vessel affectionately named “The Maeflower”. They began practising in Houston, without snow.

The team’s popularity soon attracted Visa and Under Armour as sponsors. To qualify for the Winter Games, the women had to complete five races. They met their goal in November.

Along the way, their energy and enthusiasm have attracted attention in the US and Nigeria. In December, they appeared on The Ellen Show, and, last week, tennis icon Serena Williams retweeted their Under Armour Olympics ad.

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