Members of Nigeria ’ s trailblazing bobsled and skeleton teams are set for a historic debut at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games , reports ’ Tana Aiyejina
As the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games began on Friday, Team Nigeria , who are making their debut at the event, had a four – woman team as its entire contingent of athletes .
The city of PyeongChang hosts the largest Winter Olympics Games ever , with 92 nations participating. Nigeria joins five countries namely fellow Africans Eritrea, Ecuador , Kosovo, Malaysia and Singapore as debutants .
No African country has ever competed in bobsled and skeleton events at the Winter Olympics , but that has changed thanks to four women who are representing Nigeria at the Games . Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga and Simidele Adeagbo .
Adigun, Onwumere and Omeoga, the members of Nigeria’ s bobsled team, will compete for a place on the podium on February 20 and 21 .
They are established athletes engaged in many other endeavours. Onwumere has background work experience in the mortgage industry and is now a full-time student pursuing a doctorate , while Omeoga, the brakeman for the team, works as a health care recruiter .
Adigun, the driver of the team, is currently a chiropractic student . She is studying for a dual degree for Doctorate of Chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College and a Master of Science in Exercise and Health Science University of Houston Clear Lake .
Just like the bobsled team , Adeagbo is on the verge of making history as the first female skeleton athlete from Africa to compete at the Olympics . A former triple jump athlete , Adeagbo , 36 , unsuccessfully tried to qualify for the Summer Olympics 10 years ago . However, her dream to become an Olympian has come true in PyeongChang , a feat largely inspired by the bobsled team .
After initially trying to join the bobsledders , she took up skeleton and qualified even though her first race ever was in November 2017.
The four ladies virtually learnt their sports during their qualifying series for the Olympic Games .
Indeed, a vast majority of the country’ s teeming sports populace knew of both sports for the first time after the ladies took adventurous steps to compete in them. This is however not a surprise for a country not associated with wintery conditions .
Adeagbo ’ s journey to PyeongChang , just like her bobsled counterparts , is one of determination, having to learn the tricks of a new sport in amazing time and breaking new grounds in an unfamiliar field. She keeps a date with history on February 16 and 17 at the Alpensia Sliding Centre .
“This is a sport where I was told that it generally takes about eight years for one to progress into a top level athlete . I didn’ t have eight years , I had eight weeks plus ; so, I have had to learn a whole lot in a short period of time, ” Adeagbo told SUNDAY PUNCH .
“I have done a lot of things in my career . I did a lot of things in track and field but the Olympics is the pinnacle of sports . So, I feel that it is a great accomplishment. But outside of qualifying for the Olympics and becoming an Olympian, to me, what I am starting to come to terms more and more with is the impact that what I have done is going to make.
“There ’ s going to be a lot of Olympians in the future but there’ s something special about being the first – myself and the other three ladies are the first – and that to me is special in nature because we have made history and our names will forever be in the history books, which cannot be erased. ”
On their journey to the Olympics , the odds were firmly stacked against the bobsled team . First, all three had to learn the sport for the first time . They also had to set up Nigeria’ s national bobsled federation, raising money through a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for training and buy equipment . But the hard work had started paying off even before the Games began . Several global brands, including KLM , Travelstart, Under Armour, Visa , Beats by Dre, have partnered with the team .
However, team work and massive support back home in Nigeria and globally have been integral in giving the bobsled women confidence as they work towards success .
Thirty years after the Jamaican men’ s bobsled team took the sports world by storm at the 1988 Calgary Olympics , the Nigerian women are poised to become Pyeongchang ’ s unlikeliest stars .
But it still takes nerves of steel to take off down an icy mountain in an oversized tin can at 93 mph .
“Of course , you have to think about the dangers, ” Adigun , who initiated the Olympic journey in September 2016, and brought in her other two teammates , said .
“You have to accept it and embrace it before you can actually apply what you need to protect yourself. It ’ s a ripping run of speed and being jolted around and sucked down into the bottom of the sled , whether it’ s head first or bum first – you roll with the punches . It’ s very similar to being thrown down a hill in a trash can — you just don’ t really know where you will end up sometimes .”
The Temple Management Company , a foremost talent and event management company based in Lagos , is the marketer for Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria and has played a major role in the bobsled team’ s preparation for the trip to PyeongChang .
Head of Sports , TMC , Koye Sowemimo , said Adigun , Onwumere and Omeoga were highly charged for their historic debut at the Games .
“They are highly motivated ; no athlete prepares for the Olympics without the determination to win and succeed . Whether they come back with a medal or not , they are highly motivated. Two of them represented Nigeria in athletics before and know what it takes to compete at that level, ” Sowemimo said .
The bobsled women and even Adeagbo are seen as greenhorns, having just started the sports a few months ago , but Sowemimo disagreed , saying the athletes were on the right track .
“Bobsled may not be popular here but a lot of competitors in the sport are sprinters on the tracks who literarily transformed themselves to winter athletes. We (Nigeria ) don ’ t have the climate for the sport but about 80 per cent of bobsled is on tracks while just 20 per cent is weather related ,” he added with a lot of optimism .
“What the ladies have done is to put Nigeria on the global map with a sport nobody thought of . And hopefully , our relationship with the federation and team grows from strength to strength .”
Preparations didn ’ t come easy though. When Adigun came up with idea of the Olympics , the three ladies found themselves with an uphill task of having to raise $150 ,000 for training equipment , gear, hotel accommodation , appearance fees for their various qualifiers, and other expenses.
Though it looked unrealisable initially , but a widespread coverage of their preparations by the global media , which included stories of how they strived against the odds, caught the eye of the corporate world and the bobsled team were able to raise a reported $ 200, 000 .
On Friday, Onwumere was Team Nigeria’ s flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the Games at the 35 ,000 capacity PyeongChang Olympics Stadium.
“Being a flag bearer is a huge honour and one I do not take lightly . Nigeria has never had representation at the Winter Olympics and for me to hold the flag as well as be the first to be seen holding a Nigerian flag here at the PyeongChang Olympics , there are simply no words to explain how elated I am to do so, ” Onwumere said .
Now, she and the other members of Nigeria’ s four- woman team are set for historical debuts at the Games in their various events.