Enjoy the following informative piece about Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, -Ghana's [and Africa] only Olympic skier. Ghana Rising is behind Kwame 100 percent...and pray God's Blessings and success at the up-coming games...x
[Title:Ghana's Snow Leopard on the Winter Olympics prowl]
[By: Anna Thompson Date: 10.12.09]
**You know how it is. The Winter Olympics come around every four years and all of a sudden our interest is suddenly awakened in sports we've no real idea about and athletes we've never heard of.
Well the 2010 Games are just around the corner, starting on 12 February in Vancouver, Canada, to be precise, and will conjure up new unexpected heroes for their own 15 minutes of fame. And one of these could well be Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong.
While most Winter Olympians dream of standing on the podium, proudly displaying a medal around their necks, he will be hoping not to finish last. It doesn't sound much of an aspiration but the skier wants to make his nation - Ghana - proud.
He has become the first Ghanaian to qualify for the Winter Olympics and will be competing in slalom and giant slalom at Whistler Creekside. He is fully aware of his novelty status but is desperate not to be tagged in the same hapless loser category as Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper (in the loosest sense of the word) who came to the world's attention with his glorious failure at the Calgary Olympics in 1988.
He told me: "I don't want to finish last. There are a couple of small nation competitors I want to beat so I'm rubbing my hands and gearing up to try and thrash them. "I also want to try and close the gap between the time of the guy who finishes first and me." Which might take some effort.
Having looked at his statistics, Nkrumah-Acheampong has only competed at the top level - and by this I mean the World Ski Championships - on two occasions, at Are, Sweden, in 2007 and in 2009 at Val d'Isere in France.
In 2007, he finished last in the giant slalom and in 2009 he found himself in a similar position in the slalom, 36 seconds behind the winner, Austria's Manfred Pranger. There was more cheer in the giant slalom, when he didn't finish rock bottom, he managed to beat racers from Nepal and Mongolia, but was still more than one minute behind gold medallist, Switzerland's Carlo Janka.
Nkrumah-Acheampong said he would like to pitch his Olympic dream nearer to the Cool Runnings guys, the Jamaican bobsleigh team from 1988 who triumphed against the odds and famously had a film made after them. "They came into a sport, nobody expected them to do well and they kind of changed the face of bobsleigh because their push-start times were really competitive.
"The Eddie the Eagle story kind of got out of hand, a whole media fracas. "I see myself as trying to do my best with the resources available." Nkrumah-Acheampong has not taken the convential route to becoming an Olympic skier. Although born in Scotland he was raised in Ghana but moved back to the UK in 2002 - and ironically it was snowing when he stepped off the plane.
He took a job at Xscape, the indoor snow centre at Milton Keynes, and was able to mess around on skis like the rest of the employees. "I entered fun races at the end of the season and didn't do too badly, coming in the top 20 so I thought I'd train with some ski racers and see if I was good at ski racing." And he did seem to have a natural aptitude for the sport so he set about qualifying for the 2006 Winter Olympics but he narrowly missed out on satisfying the qualification criteria.
Instead of putting him off, it only made him more determined and earlier this year he succeeded, taking odd jobs and trying to secure sponsorship to help fund his battle, including getting fans and well-wishers to "sponsor a spot" on his snow leapord ski suit. Most of his training takes place at the unglamorous setting of Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre in Hertfordshire, which is not ideal as the slope is only 160m long.
But he does also have an arrangement with Italian ski resort Val di Fiemme where he is now ruthlessly preparing for the Winter Olympics, spending eight hours a day on the snow. He has had to sacrifice time with his wife, Sena, who works at the Open University in Milton Keynes, and his young children Ellice and Jason, but ultimately they will be with him when it matters, slope side in Canada.
And he is hoping his appearance will have a lasting legacy for the right reasons - and he genuinely believes an African can make it to the top in ski racing with the right training. "I wake up some mornings and ask myself "what have you gone and done?" I get e-mails from people saying they're going to be watching me so there is pressure, pressure from all angles.
"But I think I have a unique opportunity to open up a special door into the Winter Olympics for Ghana so I hope I go to the Olympics and ski in such a way that people go "wow"."
And to this end he has set up a project, supported by American skier Ted Ligety, to build an artificial ski slope in Ghana, on the Akuapem Hills in Mamfe. "I want people to say "If it's taken only six years for this guy to go this far, we can do better".
"The majority of people in Ghana think I'm crazy but some think I'm doing something unique, to inspire Ghanaians and Africans to try something different."