The story of the all-female Nigerian team who became the first African bobsled team to qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic games is inspiring. The team, comprising of Nigerian Americans Seun Adigun, Akuma Omeuga and Ngozi Owumere completed five races on their road to qualifying for the event. With the help of Visa, they are setting a record which has caused reverberations around the world.
However, for this amazing team, the road to qualification wasn’t always smooth.
Their team leader, Seun Adigun represented Nigeria at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the women 100 meters hurdle. However, after that she wanted to try something different from track and field athletics. “I wanted to get back into Olympic sport, and I was tapped out of track and field, having done it for three years professionally and pretty much most of my youth,” she said. So, she called up fellow track and field teammates Ngozi and Akuma, who she said took only about 5 minutes to convince to be on the team.
They settled on Bobsled, a Winter Olympics team sports that uses snow; lots of it. The first challenge would be to convince millions of people in Nigeria to be emotionally and financially invested in a sport whose conditions are not in the country they wanted to represent. Nigeria has a tropical hot climate, like most Sub-saharan countries. It would be hard for snow to fall. The Nigerian government allegedly contributed nothing to the Bobsled team.
First, they needed a bobsled to train. Adigun headed to a hardware store, and after 72 hours she had finished crafting a wooden version of the bobsleds used in the competition. She named it ‘Mayflower’, practicing on it with her team in Texas, U.S.A. another city not popular for winter conditions. Practice was tough, but they had no problems. “Track and field and bobsledding are actually pretty similar in terms of the technicalities and training…The start of a race is actually very similar to the start of a track race, just the buildup. You have to push. In track and field, you have to push as well.” said Adigun.
Then, they needed a bobsled to compete with at the qualifying races, so Adigun set up a crowdfunding account for the team on gofundme. Bobsleds are quite expensive and the qualification stages would also cost them a lot. They raised $75,000 in 12 months, contributed by people in Nigeria and all over the world. And then, Visa called them. “Holy Moly” was Adigun’s reaction to the surprise call.
“I was very excited, to say the least, at the opportunity to not only join such a major company as part of Team Visa, but also be a part of a company that stands for something so strong and so important and has been such a huge influence for not only just athletes, but people in general. It aligns so perfectly with our mission for trying to empower the world and do amazing things for people to actually grow and do fearless things in life.” said Adigun.
Now that the team has qualified, there’s a sense of optimism and pride in the air. The achievements of the Sochi 1988 Winter Olympics male Jamaican bobsled team could pale in comparison to this if the Nigerian team wins a medal.
The team has already achieved their dream of qualifying. The next aim is to win the Gold. Adigun told Guardian UK last month ““We have goals…I know the goal I have as a driver is to drive us to the podium, that’s just the competitor in me…”