Ghana, Nigeria skeleton racers set for Olympic berths

Akwasi Frimpong, Simdele Adeagbo
Cocoa/Candice Ward photography
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New Olympic bobsled and skeleton criteria that helped Nigeria qualify female bobsledders for Pyeongchang should also get skeleton racers from Ghana and Nigeria into the Winter Games, experts believe.

Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong is ranked 104th in the world men’s skeleton rankings. The Olympic skeleton field will be 30 men.

But Frimpong is all but assured an Olympic berth when the field is announced in mid-January because he is the only ranked slider from Africa, bobsled and skeleton officials said.

Same for Nigerian Simidele Adeagbo, who triple jumped at the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, in the women’s skeleton field.

Provided Adeagbo completes one more qualifying race, which she is expected to do January in Lake Placid. She is ranked 81st in the world.

Olympic bobsled and skeleton qualifying now grants the top athlete per continent a near-guaranteed Olympic place per event. So long as they complete five races on three different tracks in the last two seasons (and three races on two tracks this season).

Under previous rules, Frimpong and Adeagbo needed to be ranked in the top 60 and top 45 in the world, respectively, to make the Olympics. Not anymore.

For the Olympics, the international rankings will be cleaned of all athletes representing a nation that has already reached its maximum amount of quota spots. Frimpong and Adeagbo would easily move into the top 60 and top 45 under that criteria.

They could become the second and third Africans to compete in Olympic skeleton (Tyler Botha, South Africa, 2006).

Frimpong, 31, finished 44th out of 44 sliders at last season’s world championship in Koenigssee, Germany, more than four seconds behind the top men on each of his three runs.

He has raced on the lower-level North American Cup this season, finishing at or near the bottom in Park City, Calgary and Whistler.

Frimpong rejects “Cool Runnings” comparisons to the Jamaican bobsled team.

“I’m not out there to make a Disney movie,” he said. “I’m not there to be mediocre. I’m there to compete, but I also know my boundaries and limits. My wife told me when you go to the Games, you’re going to be the least experienced athlete. You have to accept that part. My plan has always been 2022 to win a medal for Africa.”

Frimpong moved from Ghana to the Netherlands at age 8 and became a junior champion sprinter. He flew to the U.S. for college, sprinting for Utah Valley University in 2010 and 2011.

“Holy cow, 99 percent white people,” Frimpong said of moving to Utah, according to the Deseret News. “And of course I was invited right away to come to church. I went, because you know what, they had food.”

Then he got injured and switched to bobsled, joining the Dutch national team as a push athlete after missing the London Olympics on the track. Frimpong raced in one World Cup but did not make the 2014 Winter Olympic team.

Frimpong said he then became the top salesman in the U.S. for Kirby Vacuum Company.

“I sold 32 Kirbys in 28 days,” he said.

Frimpong took one more foray into sports in 2015, becoming a skeleton racer and this time competing for his native Ghana. He confirmed this story from the Herald in Scotland:

He was born in Ghana and was raised in his formative years by his grandma, Minka. She brought up 10 children, including Frimpong, in a room measuring only four metres squared. They were so poor that they only had a full egg or entire bottle of Coca Cola on Christmas day.

Frimpong can become the second Winter Olympian from Ghana, joining Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong (aka the “Snow Leopard”), who was 47th out of 48 finishers in the 2010 Olympic men’s slalom.

Adeagbo, 36, can join the bobsledders as Nigeria’s first Winter Olympians.

She was born in Toronto to Nigerian parents. Adeagbo said she moved back to Nigeria when she was 2 months old — her dad needed to go back for requirements to become a university professor — and lived there until she was 6.

Then they moved to Memphis. Then Newfoundland. Finally, to Kentucky — high school near Louisville and college at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where she triple jumped.

Adeagbo graduated in 2003 and has worked for Nike ever since.

Including while triple jumping in 2008, when she set a personal best by a foot in the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying round and ranked third in the nation for the year. But she was eight inches shy of the Olympic qualifying standard. She retired.

Adeagbo continued with Nike in Oregon — once performing as a Serena Williams body double for a press kit — until taking a new job with the company in 2013 in South Africa. She has been a marketing manager for Nike’s Africa division for the last four years.

About this time last year, Adeagbo learned of the Nigerian bobsled team seeking to become the first Olympians from Africa in the sport. All three women on the team are former NCAA track and field athletes like Adeagbo.

“I was immediately intrigued,” she said. “I had heard about track and field athletes making the move to bobsled [Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams in Sochi, most recently] and I thought, hmm, that would be interesting.”

Adeagbo was told the bobsled team was pretty set and an immediate opportunity to make it for the Olympics in a year would be difficult. She let it simmer for a few months. In July, she flew from Johannesburg to an open combine tryout for the team in Houston.

The Nigerian federation called her back for her first on-ice sliding camp in Canada in September. She tried both bobsled and skeleton.

“By the end of the week I started to kind of see the opportunity was really in skeleton,” she said. “In terms of bobsled, the timing wasn’t quite right to integrate into the team.”

Adeagbo raced for the first time on Nov. 12 — three months before she may slide in Pyeongchang. She called her introduction to zooming over 50 miles per hour head-first down an icy chute “violent and turbulent.”

In four North American Cup races this fall, Adeagbo finished in last place every time, an average of about six seconds per run behind the winner.

“My goal [at first] was to just not scream bloody murder as I’m going down,” she said. “Within a few runs, your brain somehow catches up with the speed at which you’re going, and it starts slowing down.

“It’s been a lot of learning in a short amount of time with a very lofty goal.”

Adeagbo said that from the beginning she was told it takes eight years to develop into a world-class skeleton athlete, if it happens at all. She was also told that the Pyeongchang Olympics were a possibility for her given the continental representation spot.

“I think the sport should be as global and universal as possible,” Adeagbo said. “That’s what sport is about.”

She said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation has not communicated to her whether she is safely in the Olympic field. Quota spots will be announced in mid-January for all countries.

“Based on different conversations and just kind of what I’ve observed in the sport and looking at the [ranking] list, it’s highly probable that if I do what I need to do, which is get that minimum requirement [of one more race], that I should be in for sure,” Adeagbo said.

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MORE: 100 Olympic storylines 100 days out from Pyeongchang

Akwasi Frimpong can be followed on Twitter — @FrimpongAkwasi. Simidele Adeagbo can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @SimiSleighs.

Dmitriy Balandin, surprise Olympic swimming champion, retires

Dmitriy Balandin
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Dmitriy Balandin, the Kazakh swimmer who pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 Rio Olympics, retired at age 27.

“Today I would like to announce the end of my sports career,” Balandin said last week, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee. “I am still inspired. A new phase of my life begins. I have a lot of cool projects in my head that will soon be implemented.”

Balandin reportedly has coaching aspirations.

In 2016, he won the Olympic men’s 200m breaststroke out of lane eight as the last qualifier into the final. He edged American Josh Prenot by seven hundredths of a second and became Kazakhstan’s first Olympic swimming medalist.

He followed that up with 11th- and 17th-place finishes in the breaststrokes in Tokyo last year.

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U.S. women’s basketball team scores most points in FIBA World Cup history

Brionna Jones
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SYDNEY — A’ja Wilson and the U.S. put on quite a show, breaking the World Cup scoring mark in a record rout of South Korea.

Brionna Jones scored 24 points and Wilson added 20 to help the U.S. beat South Korea 145-69 on Monday. Shakira Austin’s layup with 9 seconds left helped the Americans break Brazil’s record of 143 points set in 1990.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that can score the basketball like this,” Wilson said. “This is crazy, we put up 145 points. I think when you look at us and just knowing how talented we are, we just came together and we play together very, very well.”

The U.S. always has the most talented and deepest roster of any team in the World Cup with 12 WNBA stars on the roster. Still, the Americans had never come close to that sort of offensive output during it’s storied World Cup history. The previous team record was 119 points against Angola in 2014 and China in 2006. The scoring margin was also the biggest in U.S. history as well surpassing the 75-point win over Angola in 2014.

The win was also the 26th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals when they fell to Russia. The U.S. also won 26 in a row from 1994-2006. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-1986.

MORE: FIBA World Cup Results

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Breanna Stewart and Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.

The U.S. (4-0), which has been playing stellar defense, was challenged by South Korea early. The teams were trading baskets for the first 8 minutes and it was tied at 21 before the Americans took control, scoring the final 11 points of the period.

Kahleah Copper came off the bench for the first time of the tournament and scored six points during that spurt. The Americans kept the streak going to start the second quarter, scoring nine of the first 11 points to put the game away.

By the time the game reached the half the U.S. was up 68-40, including scoring 44 points in the paint against the undersized Koreans.

“We were trying to get the ball inside,” Jones said. “We had an advantage there.”

The only suspense in the second half was how many records the Americans could break. They took down their own scoring mark on Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the game and kept putting up points with Austin’s layup capping off the contest.

Other records broken on Monday included the 62 field goals made, 36 assists and 94 points in the paint.

“Our size was a problem for them and I thought we shared the ball,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The Americans were well rested for the game after having their first day off of the tournament on Sunday.

Despite the rout, South Korea (1-3) can still advance to the quarterfinals with a win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Leeseul Kang, who had 37 points in a win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, scored 10 points. Hyejin Park had 17 to lead the team.

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