For Africa’s sliding queen Simidele Adeagbo the Olympic Games live on: “I am still in game, and Milano-Cortina is on my mind”

Nigeria’s first Winter Olympian is using her time off the ice to support the next generation and inspire African youth to reach for their full potential. In an interview with Olympics.com she talks about the "Athletes for Good" initiative and shares her long term ambitions which include the 2026 Games, “There is no expiration date to your dreams!"

By Evelyn Watta
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

It took Simidele Adeagbo 10 years to achieve her dream of becoming an Olympian when she qualified for the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018. She made history as Africa’s first competitor in skeleton.

The first time the Nigerian attempted to qualify for an Olympics was for Beijing 2008 - as a long jumper.

She switched from sand to ice in 2017, ahead of the 2018 Games, and came close to competing at Beijing 2022 after taking up the monobob.

“The thing that I also learned is that your dream might not actually look like the way you originally envisioned it," she told Olympics.com.

"And so, you have to be open to reimagining different ways to get to the same goal.”

The quest for a second Olympic appearance may not have gone Adeagbo’s way, but her "transformational" Olympic journey has led her to a new mission - to give future generations across Africa a chance to reach their goals on and off the ice.

The 40-year-old became the first African to win an ISBF World Cup race when she claimed the monobob title in Winterberg, Germany on January 17, 2022. She's one of 16 athletes whose charities will benefit from "Athletes for Good" donations this year.

“This was really the root of my journey. When I think back to when I made the decision to start doing the sport of skeleton, it was really rooted in a deeper purpose,” Adeagbo explained her motivation to inspire the youth.

“I'm very passionate about how I can help inspire the next generation, particularly of young girls, and help give them just the incredible gift that is the power of sport and how I help build their leadership skills through that.”

Olympic partner P&G, the IOC, and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) launched the 'Athletes for Good' joint initiative in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 to recognize the achievements and work of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls on and off the field by supporting the charitable causes that are important to them.

This year, the program will provide $400,000 US of funding to the charities of 16 recipient athletes from around the world.

Find out more in the transcript of our interview below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Adeagbo on her Olympic qualification: "You don't make history by accident"

Olympics.com and Olympic Channel (OC): How has your Olympic journey been?

Simidele Adeagbo (SA): I would call it transformational. In 2018, I made history. That was awesome in the sport that I knew very little about. I did that in a very short period and a very unconventional way, taking on skeleton and qualifying for the Olympic Games in about a 100-day period.

And so really getting for PyeongChang and being able to become the first African woman to compete in skeleton at the Olympics was amazing.

When I started the journey, I knew very little about skeleton and bobsled. To see where I've come from to now, where I'm at, and recently came off a huge win where I became the first African athlete to win an international bobsled race.

I can only call it transformational to see how I've developed, how I've grown, and how I've hoped to have moved the sport forward for myself, for Nigeria, for the continent of Africa.

OC: What are some of the biggest learnings you took away from your historic qualification for PyeongChang and even coming so close to qualifying for Beijing 2022?

SA: I've learned that access matters. These are sports that are traditionally not accessible to populations from the continent of Africa and other places in the world where training facilities aren't common, the sport is very unknown there.

What I hope to have shown is that given access, the possibilities are limitless. We just have to get to the starting line. And if we're able to do that, then so much can happen from there. But it takes action.

These things don't happen by accident. You don't make history by accident. I've personally learned that I can do the things that I aspire to do. It just takes one step. And then from there you take the next step and the next step.

It's never going to be easy, but it's possible. As a person, I've just grown in just being able to take those steps and just take the steps to break barriers, which can be very scary. But in doing that, you build strength through it.

OC: What do you think people can learn about your journey?

SA: Well, there's no expiration date for your dreams. Back in 2018, it did happen kind of in an unconventional 100-day period. It really was 10 years in the making because those who know my story might know that I come from a track and field background and my original Olympic dream was to be a summer Olympian.

I never in a million years thought that I'd be a winter Olympian because track and field was my sport.

I did triple jump, and that was the path that I was on, and I was aspiring to make it to the Olympic Games that way.

GettyImages-71289586
Picture by 2006 Getty Images

I tried out for two Olympic Games, most notably back in 2008 [for the Beijing Olympics] and again trying to get to Beijing [2022 Winter Games] ironically and again narrowly missed it there.

When I look at the whole journey, I realize that there's many opportunities to kind of let it die.

But your dreams don't have to die, and you can keep going. You can have the tenacity and make that choice to keep going forward toward your dream.

The thing that I also learned is that your dream might not actually look like the way you originally envisioned it. And so, you have to be open to re-imagining different ways to get to the same goal.

"I wanted to be an Olympian. But instead of the sunshine and the sand that I originally envisioned, I became an Olympian where there was snow and ice and I had frostbite, but it was still beautiful, nonetheless." - Simidele Adeagbo

OC: Are you watching any of the action from the Beijing 2022 Olympics?

SA: Yes, I am watching from my couch. That's not where I thought it would be. I watched the opening ceremonies over the weekend and got a chance to watch some of the ski events. And last night I was just watching figure skating and speed skating.

The Olympics are always exciting. They're always inspiring. You always walk away with something great when you watch them.

OC: Have you thought of Milano-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics?

SA: 2026 is always kind of on my mind, only because as an athlete, you feel like there's always so much potential inside of you. I'm just coming off a huge, historic win where I broke the areas that some probably thought that could never have been, an African woman, winning a bobsled race.

That's amazing! I know that my future is very bright. I know that there's still so much that I can do. And so, Cortina is on my mind. I'm still in the game and we'll see what happens.

OC: What’s your biggest goal now?

SA: I see what I do as holistic, so I don't focus on just what I do in the sporting arena, what I do on the ice, I think that in parallel to that, I have a vision of what sport can look like, that I'm pursuing off the ice.

And to me, that's part of the holistic body of work as an athlete, is really thinking about legacy and what that means and how you can make an impact as an athlete.

The last few weeks, there's a couple of things that I've been exploring in terms of how I can use my voice to really advocate for greater representation at the games, whether that's geographically looking at, particularly for the Winter Olympics.

We know that there's a gap in terms of all continents being represented in all sports. How can we address that and then also gender equality? For my sport bobsled, there is huge gender disparity.

Seventy three percent of the athletes that will be competing in Beijing in the sport of bobsleigh are going to be men. And so how can we kind of look to see how we balance that going forward?

I'm also very passionate about how I can help inspire the next generation, particularly of young girls, and help give them just the incredible gift that is the power of sport and how I help build their leadership skills through that.

Simidele: "I want the youth to feel empowered to dream without limits"

OC: What is the motivation for you to use your platform, to use sport to inspire and power the next generation?

SA: Well, this was really the root of my journey when I think back to when I made the decision to start doing the sport of skeleton, it was really rooted in a deeper purpose.

I felt that because there had been no Nigerian athlete ever to go to the Winter Olympics, I thought that by what I was doing that, that could somehow be an inspiration to others because Nigeria has no snow, no ice, no winter season.

If I could demonstrate that it was possible for a Nigerian to make it to the Winter Olympics, then through that it might allow other people to see that anything is possible really and specifically the next generation of youth wanting them to really feel empowered to dream without limits.

OC: Simi, you are one of the 16 athletes from around the world who will benefit from the Athletes for Good program which will support a cause that is dear to you. You will use Athlete for Good grant to ensure the growth of LeadMinds Africa, and to support its Minds2Lead mentorship program. What’s LeadMinds Africa all about?

LeadMindsAfrica is all about empowering the next generation of youth in Africa, which for me was just a perfect fit. That is the work that I'm currently already doing.

They want to take the potential of all of these great young African youth and really help to just invest in them and help them reach their full potential.

One thing that some people may not know about the continent of Africa is it has the youngest population on Earth, so it's just brimming with so much talent. But sometimes what happens is that that talent, the youth of Africa, are not able to reach their full potential for so many reasons.

So LeadMinds is building programs that equip these leaders to be the best that they can be.

Leads2Mind session.

OC: Any small or big wins you can share already.

SA: During the pandemic, we've done some programs where I was able to come in and speak to the attendees and share my message, which is really about breaking barriers. And when I talk about breaking barriers, it's not just related to sport.

The youth that are in the program come from all walks of life. It's about helping them see those possibilities that they can break barriers in whatever spaces that they're in.

These types of programs provide that inspiration, but also the tangible kind of game plan of how you're going to do it and really spelling it out to them and giving them that confidence that they need. We are empowering the next generation of youth across the continent to be great.

And one thing Africa needs is great leadership. This is going to have a trickle effect for generations to come.

GettyImages-919261460
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

GO OLYMPIC. GET ALL THIS.

Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.