African stars to watch at Beijing 2022

Six athletes from Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco and Nigeria will compete in alpine skiing and cross-country events at the Winter Olympics. 

By Evelyn Watta

There's plenty of African representation to get behind at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics with athletes from five different African nations set to compete in China.

After what was considered the most ‘African Winter Olympics’ ever at PyeongChang 2018, six athletes return to the Games keen to not only participate but also showcase their progress and budding potential in the sport.

Unlike in PyeongChang when eight nations represented the continent across four sports, the African winter athletes in Beijing will compete in Alpine and Cross-country skiing.

Read on for a full guide and profile on each of the Africans competing in Beijing.

Mialitiana Clerc at the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games.
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

Mialitiana Clerc, Madagascar, Alpine Skiing

Mialitiana Clerc is Madagascar’s first female Olympic skier.

After her Olympic debut in PyeongChang 2018 aged 16, she will be the only African woman competing in Beijing.

And it's no longer just about the experience for the young skier:

“I'm trying to be the first woman who will be on a World Cup podium and to medal at the Olympics,” she told Olympics.com in an interview.

Clerc, who's now 20 years old has since raced at the World Championships in Are and in the 2019-2020 season, recording a series of impressive results in the South American Cup circuit and FIS events in Argentina.

She also competed in Europa Cup and World Cup races, competitions that helped her garner enough points to earn a second straight Olympic qualification.

“I feel lucky because there are not a lot of African women in the world of skiing. I try to enjoy and to be proud of myself and get the best results because I'm here for that...”

“I want to be one of the best skiers in the alpine skiing world. And at the Olympics in Beijing, I want to be in the top 40.” - Mialitiana Clerc, Malagasy skier.

GettyImages-895442540
Picture by 2017 Getty Images

Clerc was born in Ambohitrmanjaka, a small area outside Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo.

At the age of one, she was adopted by a French family but remained in contact with her biological parents. She began skiing at three even though she loathed the freezing conditions.

As she got older, skiing with friends made it more fun and the cold became more bearable as she developed a new appreciation for the mountains around her home in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps.

You can read more on Clerc’s story here.

Mathieu Neumuller, Madagascar, Alpine Skiing

Clerc’s Olympic exploits inspired 18-year-old Mathieu Neumuller, who will become the third Malagasy at the Winter Games.

Another skier, Mathieu Razanakolona, was the first athlete ever to represent the island nation at the Winter Olympics at Turin 2006.

Neumuller also competes in slalom and giant slalom and the Mont-de-Marsan native will be Madagascar's flag-bearer in Beijing.

He’s delighted to get the chance to fly the flag after pursuing a passion inspired by his father, a ski instructor, who's been helping and coaching him since he was just 3 years old.

“The Olympic Games are a stage in skiing that is exceptional, and [the thought of it] makes my heart beat very fast. A little stress but a lot of joy," Neumuller told Olympics.com.

He honed his craft at the 'Club des 2 Alpes' and since then has skied in several competitions including three World Cup events in France.

The Malagasy has great hopes for his Olympic debut.

“In Beijing, I aim first of all to exceed my current performance and have a good ranking among the best. What would be exceptional would be finishing in the top 30.”

Samuel Ikpefan, Nigeria, Cross-country Skiing

The skier from the French Alps will ensure Nigeria’s flag flies again after their historic Winter Olympics debut in PyeongChang.

In 2018, Nigeria made headlines when their athletes qualified in skeleton and bobsleigh.

Now four years later the cross-country skier will become the first athlete from Africa's most populous country to test his speed and endurance on Olympic terrain.

The French-born skier opted to represent Nigeria after his dreams of representing France became impossible in 2011.

Ikpefan, 29, nearly quit the sport and was only encouraged to return when he saw the opportunity to compete as a Nigerian.

The former French Youth sprint champion was cleared to represent the west African nation in 2018. He was delighted to don the green and white colours, an opportunity that also helped him build a stronger connection with his father's nation.

“With the food or the music, I have always been immersed in the Nigerian culture," he told Olympics.com.

Growing up in Annemasse in the French Alps, he only got a taste of top-level competition in January 2021, when he participated in his first World Cup in Falun, Sweden.

Weeks later, he competed at the cross-country World championships.

"I am proud to have the chance to represent an African nation at the Olympic Games," said Ikpefan, who hails from a family of athletes that includes a rugby playing brother, Daniel.

He hopes that his Olympic journey will peak in Milano Cortina 2026, and that he can inspire a new generation of Nigerian skiers.

“For Milano Cortina 2026, I was appointed captain of a team composed of three young skiers that are from Nigeria but live in other countries. [My role was] to explain to them the process and to help them on their Olympic journey.”

You can read more on Ikpefan’s story here.

Samuel Ikpefan 

Yassine Aouich, Morocco, Alpine skiing

Moroccans will also have an Olympian to root for at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre.

Yassine Aouich will become the eighth athlete from his nation to compete at the Winter Olympics.

He hails from Ifrane, a city located in the Atlas Mountains, known for its Alpine climatic conditions.

He grew up in a region in northern Morocco that holds the record of the lowest temperature ever observed in Africa: −23.9 degrees Celsius.

Yassine Aouich
Picture by Yassine Aouich

Aouich, who takes part in giant slalom, achieved his lifelong dream after contesting at the 2020-2021 World championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo and an FIS race in Kolasin, Montenegro.

"I promised my son that I could qualify for the Olympics, so I have to do it, I was also able to train at home because there is sometimes snow in the mountains of Morocco,” he said in an interview with ORF Vorarlberg

Carlos Maeder, Ghana, Alpine Skiing

Another debutant to look out for is Ghanaian born Carlos Maeder.

He achieved a notable qualification and will be the third-ever Ghanaian to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games.

Maeder will also line up in giant slalom. He's the second Olympian skier from his country after the 'Snow Leopard' Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, who competed at Vancouver 2010.

In 2018 Akwasi Frimpong qualified in the men's skeleton event.

It has been a long chase for Olympic glory for the Cape Coast native who began skiing when he was only three, after he was adopted by a Swiss family.

“Since my mother was alone and could not feed me, she had to give me up for adoption,” he explains on his blogsite.

“I was adopted by a Swiss family and grew up in the heart of Switzerland. Thanks to my Swiss parents, who maintained contact with my mother, I have remained in touch with Ghanaian culture all my life. I travel as much as possible to Cape Coast to visit my big family there.”

In 2017, the former youth footballer who now lives in Lucerne set himself the goal of becoming an Olympian.

“I was better at football, but skiing was always a part of me. I wanted to qualify for PyeongChang but I didn't know that the qualification window is two years, so I missed the first year," he said in an interview with Olympics.com.

Carlos Maeder, Ghanaian skier.

"Two years ago, I got an Olympic scholarship which was wonderful, but it's not easy with the budget I have. I lost one year of qualification [due to COVID-19] and then I was injured and didn’t have enough time. I am a one-man show. I couldn’t [even] afford a coach."

“It was a long and hard road...It's something very, very special as an African representing an African country in the winter sports.” - Carlos Maeder, Ghanaian skier.

The 43-year-old hopes his Beijing qualification can inspire others to keep following their dreams.

“For me, there is more to sports than just winning. I want to set a good example and show young people in Switzerland and Ghana that you can do anything with the necessary will and effort – ain’t no mountain high enough!”

Shannon Abeda, Eritrea, Alpine Skiing

Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda is another African set to return to the Olympic slopes in Beijing.

Abeda is Eritrea's first winter Olympian and began ice skating when he was three. Initially he wanted to be an ice hockey player but was discouraged by his parents who thought the game was too dangerous.

In 2011 he decided to compete for his parents’ birth country in skiing and got the nod for the 2012 Youth Olympic Games. His parents settled in Canada after fleeing war in Eritrea in the 1980s.

“When I was 7 or 8 years old, I drew a picture of myself standing on the podium of the Olympics. As a child you make dreams and you talk about these things, I never expected myself to be here,” he said in an interview with the Olympic Channel in 2018 at PyeongChang 2018 Games.

A weightlifter and a coder, he announced his retirement from alpine skiing just after PyeongChang and even considered switching to bobsleigh.

But resumed skiing in September 2021 with the hope of qualifying and was relieved when he secured a quota for the Olympics three months later.

“It’s too surreal and it hasn’t sunk yet…I have officially qualified for my second Olympic Games. About two months [ago], I was close to throwing in the towel," he posted on Instagram.

“I want to share my story more and use my voice to inspire a future generation of winter Olympians from Eritrea and the diaspora.”- Shannon Abeda, Eritrean skier.

“I hope I can build off my performance at the last Olympics and obtain a better result*. *I, unfortunately, got caught up in the little things at the last games that I did not even consider the bigger picture,” he told Olympics.com

“ I did not really capitalize on my experience in PyeongChang and I got way too wrapped up in competing and forgetting to actually enjoy myself while I was there.”

The alpine skiing events will begin on February 3.

The cross-country events will begin on February 5.

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