Seun Adigun

Nigeria women's bobsled
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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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