Slid­ing head­long into big chal­lenge

For­mer sprint­ers power Nige­ria’s bold bid to make bob­sled his­tory

China Daily - - SPORTS - By SUN XIAOCHEN in Pyeongchang, South Korea sunx­i­aochen@chi­

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.

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