Sliding headlong into big challenge
Former sprinters power Nigeria’s bold bid to make bobsled history
The arrival of Africa’s first Olympic bobsled team — pilot Seun Adigun and brakers Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga, representing Nigeria — has become a hot topic at the Winter Olympics for their groundbreaking qualification in the speedy sliding sport.
“She (Onwumere) hates it and she loves (Omeoga) it, while I am in the middle,” Adigun said of their common interest in “relaxing” by riding roller coasters.
Onwumere further elaborated that racing in a bobsled doesn’t feel quite so scary because they crouch in the cabin and don’t feel the speed and gravity as much as when riding a coaster.
Omeoga cut in, adding: “Unfortunately”.
The repartee between the three Nigerian-American former track and field athletes makes every interview fun, while the obstacles they have overcome en route to becoming winter Olympians could inspire a generation.
“This makes a very bold statement about what it means to be African,” said Adigun, a former sprinter who represented Nigeria in the 100m hurdles at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
“The expectation was that Africans would not be represented at the Winter Olympics due to the climate — but here we are, showing that anything is possible.”
Having seen her athletics career approaching the end in 2014, Adigun drew inspiration from other cross-sport bobsledders competing at the Sochi Winter Olympics and soon realized she had what it took to make the transition.
With the fire of another Olympic dream burning, Adigun recruited fellow NCAA sprinters Onwumere and Omeoga to prepare for Pyeongchang.
The lack of a frozen track in their training base of Houston, Texas, was a challenge — as was acquiring a wooden sled, nicknamed Mayflower — to practice pushing on dry land in preparation for competing in the World Cup series.
To facilitate their Olympic dream, the trio launched an online GoFundMe campaign to raise more than $75,000 in 14 months.
That inspired effort attracted the attention of Visa, which signed on as a major sponsor.
“A lot of the skills we have as track and field athletes are transferable, so we were able to remain explosive, strong and fast,” said the 25-year-old Omeoga, a graduate of the University of Minnesota.
Oneumere, 26, agreed, adding: “That’s something we are confident about. That’s our familiar territory.”
The three will make their Olympic debut in the opening heats on Feb 20.
According to OlympStats, Nigeria has won 25 Summer Olympic medals, making it the third-most successful Summer Olympic nation competing in a Winter Games for the first time, behind Cuba and Indonesia.
A total of 55 Africans from 13 nations have competed in the Winter Games, but none in bobsled.