Ghana’s first skeleton Olympian, Akwasi Frimpong, made history Saturday February 29, 2020 by winning his first race. The win was also Ghana’s first place finish in history in winter sport. Frimpong’s previous best finish was 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.
Frimpong says he had to dig deep on Saturday to win and be very focused and consistent over two runs. He says after the first run he was ranked first by a tenth of a second, but athletes are ranked based on two runs in skeleton. Frimpong says he has had a great season but hasn’t managed to put down two consistent runs in the same competition. He says his win reminded him of what his grandmother Minka told him when he was eight-years-old.
“She told me ‘Akwasi what you need for success is already in you; it’s a matter of believing in yourself, having the will to work hard and never give up.’”
Frimpong’s win beat his personal best overall time and his best push time from more than two years ago. 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. Frimpong’s overall combined time over two runs was 1:41.45 seconds.
The winner of the USA men’s class was Stephen Garbet, who is the second best USA slider this season in points and ranked 31st on the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) men world ranking. Frimpong is ranked 75th in the world.
Frimpong says he owes his first international win to the blessings of God, support of his sponsors, the Ghana National Gas Company, Forever Living Products International, and Utah local car dealership, Murdock Hyundai Group. He also owes his win to the support of his former coach Zach Lund.
This week Zach Lund voluntarily came to Park City, Utah to coach Akwasi.
Zach has been in the sport for 20 years and is a former USA sliding coach. He coached Akwasi from a top 99 on the IBSF world ranking to a top 67 during the 2018/2019 skeleton season. But due to the lack of funding and sponsorship, Zach couldn’t continue full-time coaching for the 2019/2020 skeleton season.
Frimpong’s fastest time this season on the Park City track was a 51.21 seconds, Zach’s coaching helped Akwasi slide a personal best and a season best by half a second in two days of coaching.
“I have said it over and over again,” Akwasi said. “Other athletes are not more talented than me, they work extremely hard don’t get me wrong, but they are far ahead when it comes to resources and good coaching. I can do better with top level coaching like Zach Lund. It’s what I’m praying, hoping and working for next season. I’m welcoming all partners and supporters who want to see an underdog win Africa’s first ever Winter Olympics medal in Beijing 2022. Contact my team via www.frimpong.com if there’s any interest in partnering.”
“This first win is for Ghana. I’m grateful and humble to represent Ghana, the continent of Africa and all underdogs worldwide who refuse to give up on their goals and dreams. I’m putting in effort and non-stop commitment into this and my wife has stood by me since day one”.
Qualifying for the 2022 Beijing Olympics is going to be extremely difficult, Frimpong says, because of the new Olympic qualification criteria set by the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and the International Olympic Committee.
For the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, there was a Continental spot for Africa as long as you were in the top 60 men clean list over a minimum of 5 races on 3 different ice tracks within 2 years and there were 30 spots for the men at the 2018 Olympics as well.
A clean list is where athletes move up in the world ranking after other nations have secured their maximum spots for the Olympics.
The new Olympic criteria for Beijing 2022 has 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 our sport with more resources.
Making the top 60 non-clean list is going to be very difficult, because some of the big nations like Germany currently have 9 athletes in the top 60, Russia has 7, USA 8, Great Britain 5 and there multiple nations such as Korea, Japan, Italy, and China with 3 athletes in the top 60 men skeleton world ranking. Going for Africa’s first Winter Olympics medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics is still Frimpong’s dream.
“The new competitive criteria is 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. Which truly is being the hope for a billion people.”