No ice? No problem: How Nigeria’s curling team plans to make it to Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Nigerian curler Linda Chiamaka Nwagbo tells Olympics.com how the West African nation are preparing to compete on ice for the first time at the pre-Olympic qualifiers in Turkey and Kazakhstan.
By Evelyn Watta

Could 2021 be the year that winter sports truly take off for Nigeria?

After fielding an Olympic skeleton and bobsleigh team for the first time at PyeongChang 2018, Nigeria's curling team - dubbed the Broomzillas - now hope to become the first African country to field a curling team at the Winter Olympics.

For some on their athletes, the Beijing 2022 pre-Olympic qualifiers in Kazakhstan and Turkey (in October and November 2021) will be their first time competing on ice.

The Nigeria-based team have been using YouTube videos to train and watching previous curling games to get better acquainted with the sport they discovered only two years ago.

“I’ve never had a chance to play on ice,” team member Linda Chiamaka Nwagbo told Olympics.com from Calabar, South East of Nigeria.

“But then we are not going to let it put us down from curling and from dreaming of the Olympics.”

Now it's time to try and make their Beijing 2022 Olympic dream come true.

From discus to floor curling

For years, former track and field athlete Linda Chiamaka Nwagbo threw the discus at her home stadium in Calabar.

But two years ago, the Nigerian bumped into a sport she didn't even know existed at a floor curling clinic, organised by the newly-formed Nigeria Curling Federation.

It sparked an interest in her that grew with each throw of the stone.

Nwagbo decided to switch from discus to curling, reasoning that it required an equal amount of skill, as well as physical and mental toughness.

“The thing about curling is that it is not difficult and complicated. You can watch it and try it even if you have not played it before. And it is open to any age group. It’s also fun and easy when you are playing it,” said the 23-year-old who has been training as Team Nigeria women's skipper.

“All I needed to do was to learn the basics and rules of the sport. It was easy for me to understand and the constant floor practice helped.”

“I have the required strength and when it comes to throwing and for the last stones this can be crucial. That’s where I as the skipper come in.”

"It’s going to be an interesting challenge when we play on ice for the first time. But then we are not going to let it put us down."

The main difference between floor and ice curling... is predictably ice.

On ice, the stone (which have textured surfaces) is spun to create scratches, which then makes it curl.

The players who sweep in front of the stones help polish the ice surface to reduce the scratches and smoothen out bumps.

In floor curling there is no sweeping.

Nwagbo has had to learn the ice techniques mainly through YouTube videos, which mostly feature Swedish great Anna Hasselborg, the 2018 Olympic champion.

“I assume that curling on the floor is way easier than curling on ice," Nwagbo continued.

"It’s going to be an interesting challenge when we play on ice for the first time. But then we are not going to let it put us down."

“For the game and strategy, I always practise in dry floor curling. Sometimes I slide on wet ice on the floor to gauge my stamina. I also play a game on my phone and watch online videos on YouTube. I prefer to watch the Swedish team, especially Anna and I say, 'I would like to play like this and I want my team to be like them'."

Olympic dreams

Team Nigeria men's curling team has some foreign-based athletes like Harold Woods in Atlanta, who skippered at one of their first major international events, the 2019 Pacific-Asia Curling championships.

Ahead of the pre-Olympic qualifiers he is excited to work with a mix of new faces and experienced heads.

“All of our men's team is foreign-born," he told Olympics.com.

"But at this year's PACs we are bringing to ice the women's team, which will consist of Nigerian-born curlers and I am over-the-moon excited about that."

“It is a new sport for Nigeria and for Africa in general. But I know that we have such a robust culture as a people, and I think that that will show through at the PACs this year.”

Woods will be a key member of a Team Nigeria squad that hopes to field mixed doubles, men's and women’s squads at the qualifiers slated for Erzurum, Turkey from October 5-18 and Almaty Kazakhstan from November 6-13.

Born in the U.S. to an American father and a Nigerian mother, Woods got his first call up to play for Nigeria in 2018.

It was a dream come true.

“The Olympics is the only time that I ever saw curling, so I watched in 2014, and thought to myself I could do that…so I picked it up and I was able to pick up the basics pretty well, it became a hobby. Now, I just want to be great at this,“ the former college football player told Olympics.com.

“If, and when, I make it to the Olympics, I don't know what that'll be like. It will be the culmination of a lot of work, and sacrifice. Whether it be this time, next time or, you know, 12, 16 years down the road.”

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Not just here to take part

Being a new association, most of the players fund their passion with a financial boost from the World Curling Federation, who were pleased to welcome Africa’s first affiliated member in 2018.

Bug Team Nigeria haven't just been making up the numbers.

At the 2019 Mixed Doubles World Championship, Team Nigeria's husband-wife pair of Tijani Cole and Susana Cole caused the shock of the event when they beat France.

That great performance influenced the decision to further develop the sport in Nigeria.

Nigerian Curling President Damola Daniel formed the association at the request of his curling-crazy daughter, Sheila, in 2017.

“We receive registrations from players wanting to learn curling every other day," Daniel told Olympics.com

"So, we decided to embark on an ambitious project to create an arena in Calabar, and we have already acquired land. Hopefully soon we shall be the real heart of curling in Africa,” Daniel offered, on what will be the continent’s first-ever dedicated curling facility.

“What’s lacking is sponsorship. We are now funding it ourselves and achieving these great feats, but what if we had proper structures and funding?”

“There is a phrase we say, 'Impossible takes a little longer'. For us to achieve the incredible we have to attempt the impossible.” - Nigeria Curling Federation President Damola Daniel.

Nigeria will play the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Hungary and Slovenia in the pre-Olympic qualifiers.

Curling at Beijing 2022 will be held at the Water Cube arena, which hosted swimming at the Beijing 2008 Games.