From vacuum salesman to Olympian - Akwasi Frimpong set to realise his dream in Pyeongchang

In the long history of the Winter Olympics, there has never been a male skeleton athlete from Africa.

That will change on February 15 when Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana will line up to compete in the heats of the men's skeleton in Pyeongchang at the 2018 Games. 

For Frimpong it is the end of a remarkable journey and fulfilment of a 15-year ambition to compete at an Olympic Games.

That dream looked like being taken away from him when Frimpong suffered an Achilles injury, robbing him of the opportunity to represent the Netherlands - where he relocated to the age of eight - in the 4x100 metres relay at the 2012 London Games.

But, having been persuaded to give sliding sports, in which his natural sprinting ability gives him an advantage at the start, a go by Dutch bobsled coach Nicola Minichiello, Frimpong will realise his goal in South Korea, and is hoping to be a trendsetter in African sport.

"I'm just excited to go out there and show the world what Ghana is all about," Frimpong told Omnisport. "My goal is to hope that more Africans and more from Ghana will join but I'm glad that I can pave the way for people in my country to be ambassadors for winter sport in Ghana."

The road has been far from easy, in addition to dealing with injury and having to sacrifice time with his family, Frimpong has had to attract his own sponsors and raise his own funds to be able to prepare and train at Utah Valley University, doing so by some unusual means.

"I went out there and did the best that I can, looked for sponsors, [I] was selling vacuums door to door, sacrificed to be what I am today and to show that it is possible, you just have to work really hard," Frimpong said.

"I'm kind of a guinea pig at the same time to show to sponsors, to show Ghana, the sports minister and to the Olympic committee how serious I am and that I'm able to inspire a team of people for the 2022 Olympics.

"I've been dreaming of the Olympics for 15 years. I've only being doing the sliding sports, 2013 bobsled and 2016 skeleton, so only a year and a half, almost two years in skeleton, but the goal itself started a long time ago when I was 17 years old. I sacrificed time with my family, injuries again being away from my family, that was all really tough and I definitely think it was all worth it.

"Being at the opening ceremony, waving the flag of my country, it will definitely have a flashback to all the sacrifices I have made, definitely the journey I have been through and the help of other people who have supported me to be where I am today."

Having been unable to attend opportunities for prior experience of the Pyeongchang track and with only two years in the sport under his belt, Frimpong accepts he is some way behind the more seasoned sliders in terms of preparation.

But he has already set his sights on the 2022 Games in Beijing, where he believes he could compete for a spot on the podium.

"After working hard for 15 years to reach my goal, I've already generated a little bit of success on my own," he added. "The Olympic Games is not always just about winning, it's also about conquering. I've fought for my goals and dreams and I'm just going there and I'm competitive, I want to push as far as I can and I want to slide the best that I can.

"To me just going out there and getting the experience is already a big thing. Usain Bolt did not make the Olympic finals in his first Olympics, just getting the experience and learning from the best in the world is a really huge thing for me. Getting to the Games and making history for my country is a really huge thing.

"I definitely think with my progress and how determined I am anything is possible. When I started the Bobsled and Skeleton Federation Ghana in 2016 my whole goal was to go to the 2022 Olympics and win a medal for Ghana.

"Africa has never won a winter medal before and Ghana has never won a gold medal in summer or winter Olympics. That has always been my goal to win a medal, so I'm still going for that and that's my biggest goal. 2018 is to go out there and break barriers, 2018 is to go out there and make history for Ghana."

Beyond his own individual targets, Frimpong's ambition is to inspire children in a country where football is the dominant power to try winter sports.

"I always make the example that not everybody can be Ronaldo, the best soccer player in the world, not everybody can be Usain Bolt when it comes to running," he explained. "I think that a lot of kids in Ghana have a lot of various talents, it will be great to teach them to come out of their comfort zone and find something that they are really good in and use their talent in different areas, including winter sports.

"Every three months I pay out of my own pocket and I help the local board members in Ghana organise bobsled and skeleton clinics. I've built wooden sleds in Ghana [so] kids in Ghana can learn how to push a sled, also learn the running drills that come with it, jumping, the weightlifting, all the different things that come with becoming a good pusher as a starter and then the ice part is something that later on we have to get the right financing to take them to Europe and North America to learn that.

"My Grandma who lives in Ghana, when I was eight years old and I was leaving Ghana for the Netherlands she sat me on her lap and said 'Akwasi, what you need for success is already in you, it is a matter of believing in yourself, having the will to work hard and never give up.'

"I truly believe that we have tough times, but we all have dreams, and people in Ghana, kids in Ghana should come out of their comfort zone and dare to dream. I truly believe they have so much talent, as long as they believe in themselves, as long as they work hard, stay persistent and obviously surround themselves with like-minded people and get the support around them that the sky's the limit."

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