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Nigeria sends off its bobsledders with a party

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Nigerians got to meet their Winter Olympic bobsleigh team for the first time on Friday night, just over a week before the start of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga were given a rousing welcome at a corporate reception held in their honour at a luxury hotel in the commercial hub, Lagos.

The trio — all born to Nigerian parents and brought up in the United States — will be the first African team to compete in the sport at the Games.

Their qualification late last year has since attracted massive interest around the world and won the previously crowd-funded athletes a string of big-name sponsors.

Many people in Africa’s most populous nation said they were unaware the country even had a bobsled team. Some were keen to play up their supposed ignorance for comic effect.

“So, you are the driver?” the comedian compering the event said, pointing at Adigun.

“And you are the brake… appliers,” he ventured eagerly to Onwumere and Omeoga, as if searching for the correct terminology.

“And what is that thing you are pushing? A wheelbarrow?”

“First question,” he asked the women’s team-mate Simi Adeagbo, who will also make history by becoming the first African to compete in the skeleton.

“What is that?”

Dry ice and cotton wool
Despite being new to hurtling down an icy track at 150 kilometres (93 miles) per hour, Nigerians — noted more for their passion for football — are happy to cheer the team on.

On the hotel’s rooftop bar, with temperatures still in the mid-30s Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) by late evening, the reception increasingly resembled a Nigerian wedding.

Guests drank champagne and ate “small chop” (finger food). Dance music distorted through a skyscraper of loud-speakers. Most people arrived late. Everyone blamed bad traffic.

But Nigeria’s pioneering winter sports team were made to feel at home with fairy lights and Christmas snowflake decorations twinkling overhead, above white plastic sheeting stuck to the floor with gaffer tape.

To complete the frozen idyll, a bored-looking teenager wearing a single red rubber glove operated a dry ice machine that sent damp-smelling fog curling over snow drifts of cotton wool.

Nearby, air conditioning units were set to the equivalent of 16 degrees — a good 10 degrees below the temperature that normally makes some in tropical Nigeria don a hat and coat.

The team took the gentle ribbing with good humour, batting back comparisons to Jamaica’s participation in the 1988 Games in Calgary, Canada, that led to the 1993 Hollywood film “Cool Runnings”.

Questions about the basics of the sport — from timings to the number of people participating — were met with polite responses.

But in a country where self-sufficiency is a matter of life and death for most people, the women’s hard work and commitment to achieving their goals got the loudest cheer.

Adigun said she hoped their experience would “inspire young girls” and show them that anything is possible.

For her, she said once she had told herself out loud that she was going to try to make the Winter Olympics there was no going back.

“Once you speak (something) into existence, that’s an affirmation that you’re going to commit,” she added.

“Can you speak gold into existence?” asked the compere.

Adigun smiled. Then the dancing started.


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