Editor’s Note: An LA84 grant to the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society funded three reporters to attend, report and write stories from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
Akwasi Frimpong watched as the Ghana flag slowly rose overhead. The city of PyeongChang, South Korea welcomed him to his first Olympic Games. But not only was it a first for the 32-year-old, it was the first time the Winter Olympics welcomed a skeleton athlete from Ghana.
“It’s such a great honor. I’m overwhelmed by all of the messages I received from Ghana,” Frimpong said. “I hope skeleton becomes the number one sport in Ghana.”
Following Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, an alpine skier who competed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Frimpong is only the second Ghanaian to compete in a winter event. Ever. For the skeleton athlete, the path to the Olympics wasn’t easy.
Frimpong grew up in Kumasi, Ghana in a one-room home where his grandmother raised him. Many nights, he said, were spent sleeping on the ground. After moving to the Netherlands to be with his mother, he made a friend who won a medal for a track race.
It was then that Frimpong decided to work hard at the sport so that he, too, may win a medal someday. Frimpong heard of track opportunities in the United States, and sent out applications. In 2008, he was offered an athletic scholarship to Utah Valley University. Frimpong raced there for four years, and helped break the school record in the 4 x 100-meter relay.
After a serious Achilles injury, Frimpong’s track career was hindered. Fortunately, the Dutch bobsled Olympic team recognized his talent, and recruited him to compete with them in a sport he had never before considered. At that point, he said, he developed a passion for winter sports. “A lot of times people fall back because of different reasons, but here I am after 15 years working toward this goal,” Frimpong said.
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He trained tirelessly as a bobsled athlete, putting most his time and money into his Olympic goal. Despite his efforts, he fell short of qualifying for the 2014 Games in Sochi.
That didn’t stop his dreams.
Frimpong continued to train, this time with the 2018 Olympics in mind. While he didn’t qualify for the bobsled team, Frimpong also competed in the skeleton and qualified to compete for Team Ghana. “My goal is that a lot of kids will be inspired in Ghana to pick up winter sports,” Frimpong said. “It’s a beautiful sport.”
His desires at the 2018 Winter Olympics are similar to those of his predecessor, Nkrumah-Acheampong, when he competed in 2010 at the Olympic level.
“I’m showing Ghanaians it’s not only about being in the Olympics,” Nkrumah-Acheampong told Reuters in 2010. “It’s about not being afraid to do something different if you have that desire.” While it is unlikely Ghana will take home a medal this year, Ghana’s second representation is still a milestone in Winter Olympic history and may encourage Ghanaian athletes to compete in the future.”