After moving from Ghana to the Netherlands as an undocumented immigrant at the age of eight, Akwasi Frimpong overcame many hurdles to achieve his Olympic dream. Having already missed out on the Games twice before – first as a sprinter when injury denied him a place at London 2012 and then when dropped from the Dutch bobsleigh team before Sochi 2014 – the 32-year-old finally reached the Olympic stage in PyeongChang earlier this year, when he finished 30th as Ghana’s first ever skeleton racer.
AFTER I MISSED OUT ON SELECTION FOR THE DUTCH BOBSLEIGH TEAM AT SOCHI 2014, I HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO STAY IN EUROPE AND CONTINUE COMPETING. BUT I DECIDED THAT I WANTED TO MOVE BACK TO THE UNITED STATES AND FIND A JOB.
But making this dream a reality was still no easy feat. After missing out on Sochi 2014, Frimpong moved to the US and gave up training in order to find work to support his family. Having established his own business selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, he soon had enough funds to finance his quest for a place at PyeongChang 2018 as Ghana’s first skeleton racer, but it wasn’t until he received an Olympic Solidarity scholarship that he could fully focus on achieving his goals…
“After I missed out on selection for the Dutch bobsleigh team at Sochi 2014, I had an opportunity to stay in Europe and continue competing. But I decided that I wanted to move back to the United States [where I studied at university] and find a job. I had been chasing my dream of becoming an Olympian, but I just needed to have a break. I also needed to earn some money because I had spent so much on my Olympic dream.”
“The biggest challenge is, obviously, that I’m not a professionally paid athlete. I’m doing an amateur sport. I’m not an American football player or basketball player, so I don’t get paid in my sport. That’s one of the biggest things; the challenge is that I can’t really provide for my family the way I want to.”
“I don’t think I would have been at the Olympic Games without the Solidarity scholarship. Even though you can get sponsors, it’s never enough because you’re not a professional athlete. We’re still amateur athletes and I have a family and work to think about as well, so to combine that with competing and travelling is just so much. So it definitely helped me get to the Games. Without Solidarity, I probably wouldn’t have been there.”
What it meant for me
“It helped a lot. I was able to stop selling vacuum cleaners and focus on training. I was just amazed that this funding existed and it made such a difference to me as an athlete, being able to focus 100 per cent on my sport, which is such an important thing. It helped me develop more as an athlete and to actually qualify for the Games, as I was able to travel around to more events to score qualifying points.”
Money well spent
“I’m just super grateful that the IOC offers something like Olympic Solidarity. Like I said, I wouldn’t have been at the Games without the scholarship, so it just shows how important it is. They could obviously spend that money elsewhere, but the fact that they think about athletes, and they want to support us, is really cool. You go train, you have your dream and they provide the platform of the Games, but they actually help you get there too. That supports means you can reach a certain level, so you don’t come to the Games and make a fool of yourself. Even though I came last in PyeongChang, I still showed that I could slide against the best and that all came from being able to train, have coaches and all of that.”
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IS, OBVIOUSLY, THAT I’M NOT A PROFESSIONALLY PAID ATHLETE. I’M DOING AN AMATEUR SPORT.
For more information about Olympic Solidarity, and to find out whether you could be eligible for a scholarship, contact your National Olympic Committee or click here.