AP NEWS

First African Olympic bobsled team inspires people worldwide

March 22, 2018

Members of the first African bobsled team to compete in the Winter Olympics and who trained at the University of Houston were enthusiastically welcomed home Wednesday evening, saying they were surprised at how they inspired fans in the U.S. and in their parents’ homeland of Nigeria.

“I don’t think I really aspire necessarily to break barriers, but more so just to encourage others to aspire for greatness, to never be limited by the fear of the unknown,” Seun Adigun, the bobsled driver, told supporters Wednesday evening at the University of Houston Alumni Center. She had previous Olympic experience having run in the 100-meter hurdles for Nigeria at the 2012 London Olympics.

But nothing quite prepared Adigun for the groundbreaking experience of being a bobsledder.

As an assistant coach at U of H, Adigun, 31, met Ngozi Onwumere, 26, a sprinter and long jumper at the university. The two, along with Akuoma Omeoga, 25, a former University of Minnesota sprinter, decided to train as bobsledders for the opportunity of representing Nigeria in the Winter Olympic Games earlier this year in South Korea. All of their parents had emigrated from Nigeria.

Bobsledding at the Olympics was an opportunity “not only to represent our country, but to give our country a voice,” Omeoga said. Competing at the Olympics showed “what we’re capable of, so it’s good that we’re able to actually give a voice, to what it means to be African, to what it means to be Nigerian.”

Holding dual citizenship, the trio trained in Houston using a makeshift wooden bobsled. The team GoFundMe page, started in November 2016, raised its $75,000 goal, which helped pay for travel expenses and equipment.

“Starting the Nigerian Women’s Bobsled team was not an easy decision, but I know it will be one of the most impactful things I will ever initiate,” Adigun, now studying to be a chiropractor, stated on the team’s GoFundMe page. “The success of this bobsled team will positively affect millions of people all over the world and will represent monumental international advancements in social, athletic, and economic statuses.”

Last November, the team qualified for the Olympics. The women’s Olympic dream materialized when they competed in South Korea, even though they finished last out of 20 teams.

That did not dim their enthusiasm. After all this was Nigeria’s first appearance at a Winter Olympics games. Until 1998, no African nation had ever competed in the Winter Games which began 94 years ago.

Despite the team failing to medal in PyeonJang, those gathered Wednesday to greet the Olympic threesome regarded them as first-rate heroes. At the event’s conclusion, 30-plus supporters hurriedly swarmed the Olympians, embracing them and taking selfies.

Their participation in the Olympics, Onwumere said, was important because it highlighted “a visual representation for young girls of color.”

Jose.Gonzalez@chron.com

@jrgzztx