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A Record Number of African Athletes Participated in Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games

Nigeria Team at the opening ceremony of the Games – Public Domain

African countries who participate in the Winter Olympics face major hurdles to participation. Weather conditions, lack of funding and the unpopularity of winter sports are all obstacles for those looking to participate in the games at the Olympic level. In 1960, South Africa became the first African country to participate in the Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California (United States).

However, at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea which began on February 9, more African nations will be represented than ever before. A total of 13 athletes from eight African countries will be present at the games including South Africa, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, and Togo. The following video (in French) explains how the athletes qualified, a first for the nation of Eritrea,  and how these representations compared to the previous winter games:

Winter sports are not easily accessible to those who grow up and live in non-winter climates. Athletes must consider many factors when training for winter sports at the Olympic level such as access to adequate facilities and the financial burden of the training process. The majority of African athletes train and develop their abilities far away from the countries represented. Carole Kouassi, a journalist for  reveals some of the problems athletes face, from the creation of federations for their disciplines to issues with funding:

Une fierté pour le continent qui n‘éclipse cependant pas les difficultés auxquelles les athlètes africains, notamment subsahariens, ont fait ou feront face. En premier lieu, les températures glaciales des pays qui abritent ces jeux, aux antipodes de celles rencontrées en Afrique subsaharienne. Conséquences, la majorité des athlètes représentant le continent sont nés ou ont été formés hors de l’Afrique.

Autre difficulté, le manque de financement. Le cas de l‘équipe nigériane de bobsleigh est le plus patent. Les trois jeunes dames qui composent cette équipe, ont dû lever une collecte de fonds pour payer leurs séances d’entraînement et leurs équipements.

Avant elles, des sportifs africains ont dû faire face aux mêmes obstacles. En 1984, le Sénégalais Lamine Guèye, le premier Africain noir à participer aux Jeux olympiques d’hiver, a créé la fédération sénégalaise de ski et, plus récemment, Robel Teklemariam a créé la fédération éthiopienne de ski avant de faire ses débuts aux JO d’hiver 2006.

A pride in the continent which doesn’t diminish the difficulties faced by African athletes, particularly the sub-Saharan ones, face, or will face. First, the frigid temperatures of the countries playing host to the games, the polar opposite of what one finds in sub-Saharan African. As a result, the majority of athletes representing the continent are born or receive training outside Africa.

Another challenge, the lack of funding. The case of the Nigerian bobsleigh team is the most obvious example. The three young women who make up the team had to do fundraising to pay for their training sessions and equipment.

Before them, African athletes had to deal with the same difficulties. In 1984, Senagalese athlete Lamine Guèye, the first black African to participate in the Winter Olympic Games, created the Senegalese ski federation and more recently Robel Teklemariam established the Ethiopian Ski Federation before competing at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.

For some athletes, participating is not just about being in the games for the first time, it's also about who will take home a medal:

While Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean and Adam Lamhamedi are veterans of sorts having represented Togo and Morocco respectively at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, at this year’s games, a number of African athletes will be history makers just by being there. Akwasi Frimpong will become the first Ghanaian to compete in Skeleton while Sabrina Simader and Mialitiana Clerc will become the first women to represent Kenya and Madagascar respectively. Nigeria’s bobsled team will also become the first Africans to participate in the sport at the games.

But there’s a bigger record up for grabs for all 13 African athletes in Pyeongchang, South Korea: becoming the first African to win a Winter Olympics medal.

Certains de ces athlètes pratiquent des sports inconnus dans le pays qu’ils représentent. Nombre d’entre eux sont nés et/ou ont grandi à l’étranger, sous des latitudes plus propices aux sports d’hiver, et ont choisi de participer à ces Jeux, pour certains en passant simplement d’un drapeau à un autre, pour d’autres en redécouvrant leurs racines…

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere et Akuoma Omeoga, toutes trois américano-nigérianes, participeront à l’épreuve de bobsleigh à deux. Née à Chicago, Adigun était déjà présente pour le 100 m haies des Jeux d’été 2012 à Londres. Avec Onwumere, originaire de Dallas, et Omeoga, du Minnesota, elles forment la toute première équipe africaine de l’histoire du bobsleigh olympique.

Simidele Adeagbo, participera à l’épreuve féminine de skeleton. Née à Toronto de parents nigérians et ayant vécu au Nigeria pendant son enfance, Adeagbo a mis à profit son expérience de coureuse pour participer, il y a seulement trois mois, à la première course de skeleton de sa vie et se qualifier à 36 ans dans l’équipe olympique nigériane.

Some of these athletes are involved in sports which are unheard of in the countries they represent. A number of them were born or grew up abroad, at latitudes more favourable for winter sports, and have chosen to participate in these winter games, for some simply changing from one flag to another, while for others it’s about rediscovering their roots…

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga, all three of them American-Nigerians, will participate in two-man bobsleigh event. Born in Chicago, Adigun already participated in the 100m hurdles at the London Summer Olympics in 2012. With Onwumere, from Dallas, and Omeoga from Minnesota, they will form the first-ever African team in the history of Olympic bobsleigh.

Simidele Adeagbo will participate in women’s skeleton. Born in Toronto to Nigerian parents and having lived in Nigeria during her childhood, Adeagbo took advantage of her experience as a runner to participate, only three months ago, in the first skeleton race of her life and to qualify at 36 years old for the Nigerian Olympic team.

Alessia Afi Dipol: a unique Olympic story

Born in Pieve di Cadore, a town in the province of Belluno in the Venice region of Italy, Dipol represented Togo in the women’s giant slalom (a ski race down a winding course marked by flags or poles). She was also affiliated with the Italian Federation of Winter Sports and the Indian Ski Federation. At the age of 18, at the Sochi Games in Russia, Dipol managed to finish 53rd and was also the flag bearer for her adopted country.

Dipol explains how she became a Togolese representative:

Mon père a une usine de vêtements de sport au Togo. Il tient à cette nation et je suis fière de l’opportunité que j’ai de concourir pour le Togo », a-t-elle confié. « Même si je suis née en Italie, que j’y vis et m’y entraîne, je serai désormais toujours avec le Togo, qui est comme une famille d’adoption.

My father has a sport clothing factory in Togo. He cares about the country and I’m proud to have the opportunity to compete for Togo. Even if I was born in Italy, living and training there, Togo will always be a part of me, it’s like my adopted family.

In a message she published in January 2018 on her blog, she didn't hide her enthusiasm and attachment to the country she represents at the Olympics:

Ragazzi manca sempre meno alle Olimpiadiiiiii!!!!!! Noi del Team Togo ci stiamo preparando al meglio per questo super appuntamento!!! Dobbiamo sistemare ancora delle cose e poi siamo prontissimi per vivere questa magnifica avventura!! E voi come vi state preparando??

Friends, there’s less and less time until the OLYMPIIIIICS!!!!!! On the Togolese team we’re are getting as ready as we can for this incredible event!!! We still have to arrange some things and we’ll be ready for this marvellous adventure!! And how do you get ready?

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