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Nigeria women’s bobsled team nears historic Olympic berth

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Nigeria is the most successful African nation by Summer Olympic medals yet to compete at the Winter Olympics.

That is almost certainly about to change.

Nigerian bobsled driver Seun Adigun fulfilled Olympic eligibility requirements at a lower-level race in Calgary on Wednesday.

Adigun, who competed in the 2012 Olympic 100m hurdles heats, is not qualified for the Winter Olympics — yet.

Olympic bobsled qualification is a little complicated, but it’s extremely likely that Adigun will mathematically clinch an Olympic berth as early as Dec. 2.

Nigeria owns 25 Summer Olympic medals, making it the third-most successful Summer Olympic nation yet to compete in a Winter Games (Cuba, Indonesia), according to Olympic historians known as the OlyMADMen.

A total of 55 Africans among 13 nations have competed in the Winter Games, but none in an Olympic bobsled race. Most were in skiing.

The best finish was 13th by South African pairs figure skaters Gwyn Jones and Marcelle Matthews in 1960, the first Winter Olympics with African competitors.

Only one African has competed in any Olympic sliding sport — South African Tyler Botha was 21st out of 27 racers in the 2006 men’s skeleton event.

Adigun, 30, was born in Illinois to Nigerian parents. She sprinted for the University of Houston before making the 2012 Olympics.

“I kind of had Olympic fever again,” Adigun told CBS News last year. “So, this was 2014, and the [Sochi] Winter Olympics was on, and I knew quite a few track and field athletes who had transitioned into the winter sports. So I figured, you know, I think I can try this.”

Adigun began bobsledding in 2015 as a push athlete for the U.S. before switching to driving for Nigeria before last season.

“All I knew of it was the movie ‘Cool Runnings,'” Adigun told a Houston TV talk show in August.

Her chances of qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team were limited due to a deep pool of push athletes, most former track and field collegians. But developing nations can qualify for Olympic bobsled, as the 1993 Disney film showed Adigun.

Since no other African nations have women’s bobsled teams, a pathway was open to qualify for Nigeria via the International Bobsled Federation’s continental representation spot.

If Adigun makes the Olympics, her brakewoman will likely be another former NCAA sprinter that she recruited to bobsled. Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga were also born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents.

They began training in a wooden sled they named “The Maeflower” in Houston before competing on ice together.

The story is similar to the Jamaican men’s bobsled team from 30 years ago.

Jamaica, coincidentally, also hopes to qualify its first Olympic women’s bobsled team this winter with an American-born driver (2014 U.S. Olympic driver Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian).

“These [Jamaican] men did something very special, and to be able to have everyone who is hearing our story put us on the same line of legacy that these men have created, that’s really honorable,” Adigun told CBS News.

In her five lower-level races so far, Adigun was either the last or next-to-last finisher. An Olympic medal is not realistic.

“Success would be for me to successfully navigate the track as a very novice driver,” Adigun told the BBC last winter.

The Nigerian bobsledders are sponsored by Visa and Under Armour. Adigun has appeared in a Toyota ad, too. They previously had a crowdfunding page, hitting their goal of $75,000.

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MORE: U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts

First Olympic women’s aerials champion Cheryazova dies at 50

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MOSCOW (AP) Lina Cheryazova, the first woman to win an Olympic aerials skiing gold medal, has died. She was 50.

Officials in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, where Cheryazova was living for the last two decades, said she died “following a lengthy illness,” without giving further details.

Competing for Uzbekistan, Cheryazova won gold with a triple flip when aerials skiing debuted on the Olympic program in 1994 in Lillehammer.

Shortly after winning, she learned her mother died three weeks before.

Cheryazova’s career was derailed later that year when she suffered a serious head injury while training in the United States, and spent days in a coma. She retired after failing to qualify for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Clare Egan notches first World Cup podium in biathlon season finale

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In the final biathlon event of the 2018-19 season, American Clare Egan recorded her first career World Cup podium finish, placing third in the mass start in Oslo, Norway. She hit 19 of 20 targets and crossed the finish line 10.4 seconds behind winner Hanna Oberg of Sweden. Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff finished second.

Egan, 31, made her Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, but considered retiring from biathlon at the end of the last season. “I decided that I wanted to do one more year, just for fun, just to see how much I could learn and how good a biathlete I could become,” Egan said in a U.S. Biathlon press release.

Her decision to continue has paid off: since the start of the 2018-19 season, Egan has posted the top eight finishes of her career (including three top-10 results). She concludes the season ranked 18th in the overall World Cup standings.

“I skied much faster this year than I have in the past and I think that was due to finally finding a good balance in my training, between working hard and resting. I did not train more, but the quality was much higher. I’m very excited for the next season,” Egan told U.S. Biathlon.