"Great Scot, a Ghanaian in Whistler!"
At age 33, Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong will be the first Ghanaian to compete at the Olympic Winter Games. Over 200 athletes representing the West African nation have competed at the Summer Games. Three boxers and one soccer team won medals. Although the skier affectionately nicknamed the "Snow Leopard" will gain a lot of attention at Whistler Creekside, he is not a contender for Ghana's first winter medal.
Summer ski school
Nkrumah-Acheampong was born in Glasgow while his father was a student in the city, but he was raised in Ghana without ever seeing snow in person. In an interview with London's Daily Telegraph, the father-of-two said: "All I had ever known about skiing was watching a James Bond film, so it really just took off from there." After moving to London to study in 2002, he got a summer job as a receptionist at Xscape, an indoor real-snow slope in suburban Milton Keynes. "The coaches said I had a natural talent and I've never found skiing difficult." His love for the sport has taken him all the way to the Olympics.
12th time the charm
Nkrumah-Acheampong competed in his first international race in France in February 2005, finishing in 68th and last place, over 30 seconds behind the 67th-place finisher. You could not fault him for not trying, however. He finished with the slowest time in his first 11 races but did so without a single crash-out. In his 12th race, he finally climbed out of last, finishing 74th in a B-level giant slalom race, ahead of seven other racers. Over the past five years, he has competed in events in places not known for their Alpine skiing venues, such as Iran, Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He qualified for Vancouver by collecting 140 points on the International Ski Federation scale during the 2008-09 season and by competing at the 2009 World Championships.
Africans in Alpine
Prior to the "Snow Leopard," five Alpine skiers represented an African nation at the Olympics. The best result came in 2006, when Canadian-born Mathieu Razanakolona finished 39th in the men's giant slalom while representing Madagascar. While his results may not exceed those of Razanakolana, Nkrumah-Acheampong hopes to change people's old-school views of African skiers, when he competes in the slalom and giant slalom. He also launched a campaign in Ghana to encourage kids to take up skiing. "We gave them grass skis and then took them to a fish refrigeration unit at Tema to let them feel what the cold is like," he told the Daily Telegraph.
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.