Saturday, February 27, 2010

Olympic Athlete Profile (25 of 25)-Kwame Nkrumah-Achepong/skier/Ghana

First of all, we thought this day would never come! A part of me wants to apologize to Scandanavian athletes, since we only featured one in our series, but instead I will simply mention that the Finnish women's cross-country skiing team featuring Pirjo Muranen won bronze during the Olympics on Thursday.

Unlike Finland, the west African nation of Ghana does not see snow, which makes Kwame's story all the more unique. The skier, 35, nicknmaed The Snow Leopard, told the BBC last year that for an African athlete in Vancouver simply proving you belong on the slopes in the most important thing:

"My hope is to ski very well and prove to people that I deserve to be on the hill with other top world athletes."

Kwame, who ironically shares his name with a Kenyan politician, first learned to ski on artificial slopes in the United Kingdom where he has spent much of his adult life. He told the BBC that the sport fits his thrill-seeking personality:

"It's an extreme sport and I've always liked challenges and it was more difficult than the traditional sports I was used to," Kwame said. "I just wanted to see if I could cut the real thing."

Kwame hooked up with Denis Grigorev, a coach from Uzbekistan who he met during a trial competition in Iran.

"My coach told me to avoid any embarrasment," Kwame said. "I should just go straight down, so that's what I did just go straight down."

The skier from Ghana initially tried to compete at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, but his flight to an Olympic trial was postponed at the Amsterdam airport due to ice on the wings.

Kwame told "The Canadian Press" that he aims to have a blast in Vancouver:

"I just into skiing for fun," Kwame said. "It's just turned into something else now."

As one might expect, Kwame has become a sensation in Vancouver with tourists buying him lunch. Canadian fiddler Ashley Maclsaac actually wrote a charity song entitled "Dreams" to help with the skier's Olympic expenses.

MSNBC reported that Kwame is not interested in becoming a mere novelty athlete, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle who became a sensation at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary:

"For me, sports are competition," Kwame said. "It's not about all the funny things can do to create loads of money, I think the teams around me understands we are not a joke."

After the Olympics, Kwame wants to open a grass ski slope in Ghana so his countrymen can learn to ski like him.

Kwame is also popular with local stores as Chackas, a gift shop in downtown Vancouver, has dedicated its entire store-front window to "The Snow Leopard."

He is set to ski for the first time at the games this afternoon.

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