As the 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off in Beijing, China, on February 4, athletes poured in from all over the world for the event, with Africa as no exception. Though the majority of states on the African continent have little to no snow, creating a challenging environment for Winter Olympic training, African athletes are rising to the challenge. So far, no African athlete has ever won a medal at the Winter Olympics. Is this year Africa’s chance to change this?
Only five African countries will be in attendance in Beijing this year — a drop from the eight countries which participated in the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea in 2018. Unlike the 2018 lineup, South Africa, Togo, and Kenya will not be represented due to missing qualification times and lack of funds.
Here are the five African countries and athletes raising their flags at the games this year.
This island nation is sending Mathieu Neumuller while Mialitiana Clerc returns for her second Winter Olympics after her debut at the 2018 Games in Pyeonchang, Korea. Each of them will be participating in the Downhill skiing events. Clerc is the only female skier from the continent for this year’s Games following the withdrawal of Kenya’s Sabrina Samider. Clerc told Olympic organizers she hopes to “inspire Africans,” adding:
I’m trying to be the first [African] woman who will make a World Cup podium and bring back a gold medal from the Olympics. I want to be one of the best skiers in the alpine skiing world. And at the Olympics in Beijing, I want to be in the top 40.
Clerc was born in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo and grew up in France. She started skiing at the age of three in her home region of Haute-Savoie, along the French Alps. Through her love for the sport and sheer grit, she qualified for the 2018 PyeongChang Games at the young age of 16. She also participated in other skiing competitions in South America and Europe over the last four years. Her success served as motivation for her country-mate, Mathieu Neumuller. Neumuller was born in Madagascar but also grew up in France.
Shannon Abeda shall be competing in the Alpine Skiing event representing Eritrea. Shannon returns for his second Games after enduring racism, xenophobia, and a flurry of online abuse during the last games. He had quit and only sought to qualify late in 2021. He says he hopes to inspire the next generation of skiers from Eritrea. He also wants to move away from skiing and begin participating in bobsleighing competitions. He published a video titled “Dear Shannon” on Instagram about his journey finding the motivation to participate in the Games and overcoming the abuse he faced while growing up in Canada. The video is about moving out of his comfort zone and his choice to return to the Olympics one more time. He attributed his choice to his support system and those around him.
Morocco will be represented by Sami Lamhamedi, a skier for the men’s Alpine Skiing and slalom events. He is looking to improve on his previous performances at the world championships. His father is Moroccan, and his mother is Canadian, but he chose to compete for the former way back in 2010. He won gold at the 2012 Winter Youth Games in Innsbruck, Austria, and went on to represent Morocco in the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia. He’s hoping to improve on his senior Winter Games appearances.
Nigeria’s Samuel Ikpefan Uduigowme will be participating in the cross-country skiing event. He’s the first cross-country skier from Nigeria and the only African representative not competing in the alpine skiing competition. He activated his dual citizenship switch from French to Nigerian in 2016 and was forced to travel to Abuja, Nigeria, to convince the Nigerian Skiing Federation of his abilities. He’s already helping to bridge the gap with other Nigerian skiers abroad who wish to represent their home country. He hopes to secure more Nigerian skiers in the 2026 Olympics in Milano and Cortina.
He went through a rigorous process of qualifying for the Games in 2021, as the Nigerian authorities made him travel back to demonstrate his skills using roller skis. He has been training in the French Alps, where he grew up. He also participated in the World Cup in Sweden in 2021 to confirm his place, where he made his debut in cross-country skiing.
Ghanian Carlos Maeder is the oldest alpine skier at the Games and only the third skier from Ghana. Having been adopted and raised in Europe, he sought to represent his country of birth,
To set a good example and show young people in Switzerland and Ghana that you can do anything with the necessary will and effort — ain’t no mountain high enough!
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Using his blog, he explains that while he was given up for adoption by his mother, he maintained connected to his Ghanaian culture and roots. A former footballer, he rekindled his interest in skiing in 2017 and qualified for the 2018 Games though he did not compete. He decided to honor this by taking part in this year’s Games.
Kenya’s Sabrina fails to secure funding
Kenya’s only representative Sabrina Samider, a woman skier who would have been competing in the Alpine Skiing for her second consecutive Olympics, was unable to secure funding from the National Olympic Committee Kenya(NOC-K). This is a sad turn of events, as in 2018 the NOC-K secured her funding and even accompanied her to the 2018 Games. No explanation was given as to why the NOC-K could not secure her funding this year.
Africa’s history in the Winter Olympics
Six decades ago, at the 1960 Squaw Valley Games in California, South Africa became the first African state to represent Africa at the Winter Games. One-quarter of the African athletes were figure skaters, including Marcelle Matthews, who was the youngest participant at the Games at 11 years old. She was joined by Patricia Eastwood, 12, Marion ‘Penny’ Sage, 16, and Gwyn Jones, 20.
This was the last time South Africa would attend the Winter Olympics for the next 34 years, after initially being barred from participating in 1964 over the National Olympic federation’s refusal to condemn apartheid. Eventually, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expelled the South African athletes to protest apartheid and the nation’s policies of racial discrimination. Since then, 15 countries have represented Africa at the Winter Olympic Games — about 28 percent of the continent’s 54 countries.
Unlike previous Olympics where there have been teams competing in the bobsleigh event, this year, all the African participants are competing in single participant events.
These participants face unique challenges with limited preparation opportunities. The majority of the skiers have strong ties with the snowbound countries in the Northern hemisphere, such as France, Switzerland, and Germany. Many of the Olympians were either born to parents with both African and European heritages or adopted by European families. Others left the continent to pursue educational or career opportunities and train.
These challenges represent a motivating factor for many of the skiers. For the athletes, these games are an opportunity to inspire and encourage future generations of African Olympians.