Ghana’s first skeleton Olympian, Akwasi Frimpong, made history on Saturday February 29 2020 when he won the first place at the 2020 USA Western Skeleton regional competition.
Frimpong’s victory makes him the first African to have won the prestigious title. Until last Saturday, his best finish in previous contest had been in the top nine.
The USA Western Regionals competition took place in Park City, Utah, on the Olympic bobsled track used in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Frimpong won by beating skeleton athletes from Japan, Luxembourg and Israel. The USA men raced in their own class since it counts toward their national competition rankings. Had Frimpong raced against them, he would have finished third just .05 of a second off the lead.
The win makes him beat his personal overall best time and his best push time from more than two years ago.
Skeleton is a winter sliding sport in which a person rides a small sled, known as a skeleton bobsled, down a frozen track while lying face down and head-first.
In Saturday’s first run, Frimpong pushed his 72 pound skeleton sled in a time of 4.82 seconds at the 50 meter start and navigated it down the 1,400 meter track in a downtime of 50.69 seconds.
In the finals he beat his push time clocking 4.79 seconds on the push and had a 50.76 second downtime. Frimpong won his category by 0. 44 seconds over two runs.
His overall combined time over two runs was 1:41.45 seconds.
Frimpong, a Ghanaian who trains in Salt Lake City, Utah, but lives in both the Netherlands and Ghana is ranked 75th in the world of Skeleton and was the only African to have participated in this year’s game.
Frimpong says his dream is to qualify for the 2022 Beijing Olympics even though he admits that is going to be difficult a task. This is due to the changes that have been made to the Olympic qualification criteria by the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and the International Olympic Committee. The criteria for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, included a Continental spot for Africa, being in the top 60 men clean list over a minimum of 5 races on 3 different ice tracks within two years and there was also the 30 spots for the men at the 2018 Olympics.
However, the new criteria have only 25 spots for the men, no Continental representation spot for Africa and there is no clean list. This means you have to qualify almost the same as some of the big nations in the sport with more resources.
According to Frimpong, making the top 60 non-clean list is going to be very difficult, because of some of the big nations like Germany that currently have nine athletes in the top 60, Russia which has seven, USA which has eight, Great Britain with five as well as countries such as Korea, Japan, Italy, and China with three athletes each in the top 60 men skeleton world ranking.
He however says going for Africa’s first Winter Olympics medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics is still his dream.
“The new competitive criteria are hard for small nations such as Ghana, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself and become a victim; it’s actually pushing me and motivating me even more to get Africa at the Winter Olympics,” he said.