Publish date:

OFF AND RUNNING

A bobsled team from Nigeria heads to Korea
Author:

SEUN ADIGUN launched a GoFundMe page last year to help finance an outlandish Olympic pursuit: start a women's bobsled team in Nigeria, a country with a sub-Saharan climate, and become the first team from Africa to compete in the sport at the Winter Games. Like a character out of Cool Runnings—the movie that chronicled the Jamaican bobsled team's journey to the 1988 Olympics—Adigun, 30, who's completing studies in chiropractics, handcrafted a wooden training sled. She depleted her savings while teammates Akuoma Omeoga, 25, and Ngozi Onwumere, also 25, who are pushers on the team, put white-collar careers on hold to slide around icy curves at 80 miles per hour. When Adigun pitched Nigerian sports officials about starting a bobsled federation, they seemed a bit bewildered. "I don't blame anybody for being confused about this," says Adigun.

What started out as a quixotic quest has become another story worthy of Hollywood: Adigun and her sled have qualified for the Olympics in the two-person event (the only one for women) in PyeongChang. All the women are former U.S. college sprinters with dual Nigerian-American citizenship. Adigun went to Houston and ran the 100-meter hurdles for Nigeria at the 2012 Olympics; Onwumere also went to Houston and Omeoga ran at Minnesota. They now train in Houston, but they visited Nigeria this spring to promote their adopted sport. They received an enthusiastic welcome. "To bring us in with such open arms and accept what we're doing as almost heroic," says Adigun, "it was just beautiful to get that vibe."

Adigun hopes their team will inspire more Africans to try winter sports. "There is no reason why people should feel like there's only one lane they need to stay in," she says. "Diversity explains to people that there are no limits in this life."

AND A WARM WELCOME TO ...

ERITREA

Canadian-born Alpine skier Shannon-Ogbani Abeda, 21, plans to compete in slalom events.

MALAYSIA

Julian Yee, the country's five-time defending national champion in figure skating, will make his Olympic debut at age 20.

SINGAPORE

Short track speed skater Cheyenne Goh, 18, will compete in the women's 1,500 meters on Feb. 17.