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Lessons from Nigeria’s bobsleigh and skeleton team

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(L-R): Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga attend a social social event in Lagos, Nigeria on February 2, 2016. The lady bobsledders will be the first ever Nigerian team at the Winter Olympics when the compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. / AFP PHOTO / Stefan HEUNIS

The Bobsleigh trio of Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga and Skeleton athlete Simidele Adeagbo, who have become Nigeria’s pioneer Winter Olympics athletes, were warmly welcomed into the country by key Nigerian brands last week. The ladies, all American-born, were treated to a joyous time before they departed for Pyeongchang, South Korea, to represent the country. From one reception to the other, meetings with press and other photo opportunities, our first Winter Olympics participants hardly had a breather as they were feted and celebrated ahead of the Games.

Their story is one that inspires and can serve as a lesson to several other athletes who are struggling to find funding and recognition in our country. It all started out with a dream by Adigun, a former 100m hurdler and 2011 African champion, to participate at the Winter Olympics after competing for Nigeria at London 2012. Having picked up bobsleigh alongside other former American sprinters, she opted to set up a Nigerian federation and bring together Onwumere and Omeoga to form a team to represent the country for the first time in winter sports. They needed money to buy the very expensive equipment required as well as travel to compete in order to meet the qualifying requirements. They turned to social media and the fundraising website Gofundme where they met their target of $75,000 (27.4million Naira) in 11 months. They worked hard to make their dream of qualifying for Pyeongchang a reality.

Adeagbo, also a former athlete, saw their passion and wanted to be a part of it. She applied to be the fourth member of the team but was told that women’s bobsleigh, unlike the men’s, requires just three in a team; the driver and two alternating brakemen. Instead of giving up and quenching the spark kindled in her, Adeagbo searched for a sport where she could participate and found Skeleton, one of the most dangerous events in winter sports. Skeleton requires an athlete to lie face down on a sleigh and plunge down the ice track headfirst at speeds of up to 130km/h. Four months after taking up the event, she too qualified for the Olympics.

Four women, who have against all odds, taken up non-traditional sports to challenge themselves and inspired a whole country. I met them last week when I co-moderated a panel at a soiree hosted by a lager company where they were unveiled as brand ambassadors. Having visited the Sochi 2014 sleigh centre during my studies in Russia, it was a thing of pleasure to be able to help send off the ladies on to fly Nigeria’s flag for the first time at the Winter Olympics. I have written on social media about my inability to stand on my feet during an ice skating event; to see my countrywomen making history on ice left me inspired and I realised that nothing can stop someone with a dream.

The key lessons for our athletes going forward are many. In a world increasingly driven by social media, athletes need to become savvier in its usage. Adigun drove her fundraising campaign through her social channels. It was her passion that caught the attention of Temple Management Company who reached out to manage her and offer her a world-class support team to facilitate her dream, according to its head of sports, Koye Sowemimo, at the CampsBay Sport Business Forum on January 31. The manner in which she told her story helped her to capture the attention of the world and it brought about goodwill and then the sponsors came on board.

While athletes are competing, they need strong support systems. They require a good management team that will handle all legal and brand work while they focus on competing. And they need a dose of good fortune in a country where several top performers have gone without finding corporate endorsements. For while we celebrate the ice blazers who are yet to win a medal, there are dozens of world-class athletes in our country who are struggling to meet their needs. I am certain they would give anything to enjoy a quarter of the fortune that these women have found since they were announced to the world via the Ellen show.

As we celebrate our first Winter Olympics team, we must not forget the indigent athletes who require a little support to make their dreams become reality. We must channel the same amount of adulation towards them in order to create opportunities for more people. I hope Corporate Nigeria does not get carried away by the novelty of winter sports and forgets the lesson to spread its wealth over many other fields of endeavour. That is the way we can create more truly Nigerian heroes and heroines.


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