Nigerian bob­sled­ding trio off to the Winter Olympics

They’re the first African bob­sled­ding team to take part in the Winter Olympics – and they’re go­ing for gold!

DRUM - - Contents - BY MPHO TSHIKHUDO

THEY haven’t stepped onto the ice yet and they’re al­ready be­ing re­garded as win­ners. These three women have de­fied the odds to qual­ify for the 2018 Winter Olympics – de­spite hail­ing from a land that nudges the equa­tor and has never seen snow. Not only are Seun Adi­gun, Ngozi On­wumere and Akuoma Omeoga the first ath­letes to rep­re­sent Nige­ria in the Winter Olympics, they’re also Africa’s first bob­sled team to com­pete in the Games.

It was an am­bi­tious project to be­gin with but the trio was de­ter­mined to make it work. Their first qual­i­fy­ing race was in the North Amer­ica Cup in Pa r k City, Utah, where Adi­gun (30) and Omeoga (25) com­pleted two races in Jan­uary.

They then went on to Whistler, Canada, for their sec­ond con­test – and Adi­gun and On­wumere (25) were the only team to com­plete the first race.

Their dar­ing ef­forts paid off in Cal­gary, Canada, when they com­pleted their fourth and fifth races for a place at the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChan­g in South Korea.

“I ba­si­cally got into the sport of bob­sled­ding in 2015 af­ter a lit­tle bit of a hia­tus from ath­let­ics,” Adi­gun told Peo­ple mag­a­zine.

“I also learnt that Nige­ria had never had any Winter Olympians . . . Then to cap it off, I learnt that the con­ti­nent of Africa had never been rep­re­sented, man or woman, by any bob­sled team.

“So I was like, ‘Okay, this is ob­vi­ously some­thing that is gonna hang over my head if I don’t step in and try to do some­thing about it.’”

The three women are all for­mer track ath­letes and mak­ing the tran­si­tion to bob­sled­ding wasn’t all that hard.

“The only thing that’s re­ally dif­fer­ent in terms of the ac­tual sport it­self is the winter aspect of it and it be­ing so labour in­ten­sive,” On­wumere says. “In track and field, usu­ally we get there, get ready, get men­tally ready, get on the track and run.

“Bob­sled­ding takes a lit­tle more prepa­ra­tion but the ded­i­ca­tion and the will to win is ex­actly the same.”

THE team was formed in 2016 by Adi­gun, who is no stranger to the world stage hav­ing rep­re­sented Nige­ria in the 100m hur­dles at the 2012 Olympics in Lon­don. “I know this will be one of the most im­pact­ful things I’ll ever ini­ti­ate,” she says.

“To­gether we can demon­strate that noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble with a lit­tle faith, sup­port and will­ing­ness to per­se­vere.”

All three women have dual US-Nigerian cit­i­zen­ship. They have Nigerian par­ents but were born in Amer­ica – Adi­gun in Chicago, Omeoga in Min­nesota and On­wumere in Hous­ton.

Adi­gun de­cided to try out bob­sled­ding af­ter re­tir­ing from ath­let­ics and, nat­u­ral ath­lete that she is, made the 2015 USA bob­sled team. A year later she de­cided to form one in the name of Nige­ria. Adi­gun told ESPN this is a ma­jor mile­stone for sport in trop­i­cal Nige­ria.

Bob­sled­ding is a winter sport where the driver nav­i­gates the sled down an ice track, while the brake­man pulls up the brake at the driver’s com­mand to con­trol the speed­ing ve­hi­cle.

In the male ver­sion of the sport, a sled can carry up to four ath­letes. How­ever, com­pe­ti­tions for women can only have two ath­letes in the sled, so Omeoga and On­wumere al­ter­nate.

“Our ob­jec­tive is to be the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Africa that the Winter Olympics have ever wit­nessed.”

The women are all for­mer track and field ath­letes and be­lieve they have what it takes to win gold.

LEFT: Nigerian bob­sled­ding trio (from left) Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adi­gun and Ngozi On­wumere are the first African ath­letes to par­tic­i­pate in the Winter Olympics (ABOVE).

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