The first African bobsled team to qualify for the Olympics
They're former track stars
Three Nigerian-American women are making history – and their Olympic dreams come true – by being the first ever African bobsled team to qualify for the Olympics.
The team will also be the first Nigerian athletes to compete at a Winter Olympics, when they appear at the PyeongChang games, which begin February 9.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are the force behind the team, which officially qualified for the games in November last year.
“When people see us, they’re like ‘oh you guys are all the same!’ We get along so well, but between the three of us there’s so much versatility,” Omeoga told CNN.
Adigun, the driver and founder of the team, describes herself as the critical, analytical one, whereas Omwumere is more laid back, and Omeoga meets them in the middle.
But they all have one thing in common: they are all former track and field stars.
They had successes. Omwmuere competed in the All-African games, and Adigun made it to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where she competed in the 100-meter hurdles.
In 2015, Olympic dreams called Adigun back, this time, to uncharted territory: sliding on ice at speeds up to 90 miles an hour.
“I started bobsled at 28 years old. It’s not that I wasn’t able to start earlier. I didn’t have a clue about it,” Adigun said.
At the time, the sport was trying to grow and attract former track athletes. Team USA recruited Adigun, who grew up in the US, and she became a brakewoman for a year.
Not long after, she had a conversation with Nigeria’s bobsled federation.
“They told me there’s an opportunity for me to help change what it means to be a bobsled athlete for the continent of Africa, and in the sport itself. The humanitarian in me knew that this was something that I had to do,” Adigun said.
A year later, she enlisted friends Onwumere and Omeoga as her brakewomen to form a bobsled team from scratch.
“She kidnapped us. That’s the story,” Omeoga said.
“Yeah! Held captive!” Onwumere chimed.
But they all felt it was the right time to do something big for their country, and continent.
When they’re not on the road traveling to wintery destinations, they reside in Houston, Texas. But to all three, Nigeria has always been home.
“Being Nigerian was always something that was definitely prominent in my childhood, as it is as much as in adulthood. That was the first culture that I’ve ever known,” Omeoga said.
In April 2017, the trio had a major homecoming to promote the winter sport in the country, and show Nigerians what bobsled is and how they too can train for a cold-weather sport, even if they live in a warm-weather place.
Adigun has a special tool for teaching when not on the ice. It’s a wooden sled that she calls the Mayflower.
“I built [it] when I was a brakeman in the US. So, when I decided to start the Nigerian team it just became the bobsled 101 tool. We spend a lot of time doing reps on the Mayflower, on turf or track surfaces,” Adigun said.
The journey so far has been a great ride. The rides themselves? Perhaps a little different than envisioned.
Adigun admits the driver’s seat is more comfortable, unless you crash.
“You know, when you crash, there’s kind of a different ride. But just like with anything that’s new there’s no real blueprint, you know there’s going to be phases and stages where you might run into some walls,” Adigun said.
But overall, the experience has been positive.
“This journey has taught me that self-improvement is on a continuum. Even when we get to the Olympics, it’s still like, “What happens next?” And that’s what life is about, just always wanting to improve,” Onwumere said.
Adigun doesn’t want to be seen as the new kids on the block.
“We want to be able to be something that people can really be able to be proud of.”