For Ghana's sole racer, it's not about taking part

PYEONGCHANG (Reuters) - Taking part in the Pyeongchang Games is not the end goal for Ghana’s first skeleton racer Akwasi Frimpong -- he wants to set the foundations for more Winter Olympians from Africa.

Skeleton – Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Men’s Training – Olympic Sliding Centre - Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 11, 2018 - Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana trains. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A converted track athlete who also tried bobsleigh, Frimpong’s switch to skeleton -- and to representing the country of his birth - has opened the door to an Olympic debut.

He is the first West African to compete in skeleton, the hair-raising, head-first sliding sport where competitors power down an icy track with their chins just centimeters off the ice.

He may be making history simply by being in Pyeongchang but Frimpong said his true target is Beijing in four years time.

“My goal was always 2022 but with my hard work and support of family and sponsors I thought I would gear up for 2018,” the 32-year-old Frimpong told Reuters.

“But I’m focused a lot on 2022 because my goal is to win a medal for Africa and that would be a real big breakthrough”.

While driven by his personal ambition, Frimpong is also aware the Pyeongchang Games mark a significant milestone in terms of African involvement in winter sports.

A record eight African nations are competing in South Korea with 12 athletes in action.

“I think this will be great for Africa it will be great to get people out of their comfort zone in Africa,” he said.

“There have been a lot of misconceptions but now we have Africans in skeleton, bobsleigh, snowboard and skiing, I just think it’s going to be great for the continent of Africa,” said the Utah-based Frimpong.

“When you talk about west African countries when you talk about black people let’s be real, then yes I think it is a breakthrough moment.

“I hope this is not just going to be a one time thing though, that we can continue with this journey. That is certainly my plan.”

Having grown up in the Netherlands after his family moved from Ghana, Frimpong won a scholarship to Utah Valley University in the United States.

The sprinter was unable to make the Dutch 2012 Olympic team, and switched to bobsleigh but missed out on a place in their squad for Sochi in 2014.

He then took a break from sport but was persuaded to try skeleton by British coach Nicola Minichiello who had worked with him on the Dutch bobsleigh team.

“I gave it a try and I just loved it,” he said.

“It’s different from bobsleigh where are you at the back you just don’t see anything. I’ve got my own life in my hands and I decide whether to go left or right or straight.

“The very first time it is definitely scary you’re very close to the ice. But I realized the competitiveness in me wasn’t gone.”

Editing by Greg Stutchbury