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Olympic History in the Making: Ghana's One-Man Ski Team


Africans have long played a dominant role in the Summer Olympic Games. But the Winter Olympics are something else. Yet a man from Ghana is in Vancouver, Canada to take on some of the world's greatest skiers at this year's Winter Olympics (February 12-28).

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong has only been skiing for six years. But the 35-year-old Ghanaian, known by his fans as the Snow Leopard, is representing his country at this year's winter Olympics in downhill skiing.

His Olympic journey began when he moved to Britain a decade ago. In order to earn a wage for himself and his young family, he got a job as a receptionist at an indoor snow center, where snow is manufactured from water and air.

It was there that he first sped down a snowy slope carried precariously on a pair of rented skis.

"Really it was like having some fun, not really skiing because I wanted to ski but it was there - like working here, having the free ski slope and I learned how to ski that way," he said.

But what started as a bit of fun, in the end turned into a serious pursuit. Within two years he'd made his way into a real mountain range.

It was then that he got a taste for what he says he loves most about skiing - waking up early on a crisp morning and gliding alone down a snowy slope. But he also loves the speed.

"When you get to the top of a racecourse and you've got all the gates and everything set up, it's a challenge, you know, it's a competition against yourself to see if you can actually get down to the bottom of the slope - not just get down but get down as fast as you dare," he said.

Richard Harpham is Nkrumah-Acheampong's manager and has been working with him for the last four years. He says watching the Snow Leopard develop as a skier has been an inspirational adventure to watch.

"I guess over the last three or four years, he's established himself as a competitor, which is what is very important to him - he doesn't want to be the novelty, he wants to be the middle dog. He's not going to achieve medal status - it's very unlikely - but he wants to come away with the respect of his fellow competitors and the fans," said Harpham.

But Nkrumah-Acheampong says, for him, the most important thing is for his experience to inspire future generations. He says he thinks it's important that young Africans know it's possible to branch outside of sports commonly played on the continent, like running and football.

"We do them because it's cheap. You get a field, you put a ball on, everybody can play - the ball doesn't cost as much as a ski. But I think maybe the African nations should start getting involved in different sports, just to see. Because I think in every 200 to 300 people there is a champion somewhere," he said.

And he says he hopes one day Ghana will produce a skier good enough to beat the world's best.

"For me, I'm a guinea pig really, an experimental guy opening a few doors, getting people to recognize that If I've taken six years to achieve what I've achieved, let's give somebody else ten years and let's keep on going and maybe in the next 10-15 years we shall get a racer from Ghana who can actually compete in the top 30-50 in the world - then I'll be very happy," he said.

Nkrumah-Acheampong's next goal, he says, is to open a grass ski slope or an artificial ski slope in Ghana to help young Ghanaian skiers to follow in his footsteps.

For many his plans may seem overly ambitious, but this Ghanaian is determined to prove that wrong.

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