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Nigeria’s Olympic Ambition

A three-woman bobsled team is set to represent Nigeria at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Unlike the charmingly underprepared Jamaican bobsled team that debuted in Calgary in 1988, these women look more like superheroes than underdogs.

The winter games have traditionally been limited to athletes from parts of the world that have a winter season. Snow and a familiarity with winter sports – particularly the high-tech versions that exist these days – is a pretty basic prerequisite for success. But National Olympic Committees from many African countries, including Nigeria, have been looking for creative ways to prepare athletes to compete in more events, particularly the ones with global appeal and lots of medals, like gymnastics and swimming. Everyone, it seems, wants to take credit for launching the next Michael Phelps.

But Seun Adigun, the driver of the bobsled team, thinks winter can work for her. “Together, we can demonstrate that nothing is impossible with a little faith, support, and willingness to persevere,” she told Face2FaceAfrica.

Adigun is also no stranger to sport or the cold. She grew up in Chicago, is a University of Houston graduate and a lifelong track and field athlete. In the 2012 games, she competed in relay and hurdles for Nigeria. Last year, she decided to switch specialties after she watched other runners attempt to extend their Olympic careers with a pivot to the bobsled track.

Adigun, along with teammates Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga, has launched a GoFundMe page to help underwrite their training and supplies, including the actual sled. She’s got a flair for the dramatic. “The fate of Nigeria’s eligibility to be represented in the 2018 Winter Olympics rests exclusively on my ability to qualify as a competent driver,” she wrote on the page.

I’m rooting for her specifically and Nigeria in general. It’s a country of many paradoxes, the wealthiest and most prosperous on the African continent, though still struggling to make itself whole. While Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has become one of the most the most prominent literary voices in the world, the country stares down a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, thanks to Boko Haram’s terrorist reign in the northeast part of the country. And then there is the ongoing problem of the missing oil revenues.

But, as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg discovered when he visited the country in September, Nigeria is teeming with tech talent and new ideas worthy of investment. One of his stops was Andela, a talent accelerator which recently closed a $24 million Series B funding round led by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the fund established by Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan. His visit shone a bright light on a sector that could use some international heat.

That the Olympics is an old idea doesn’t detract from the aspirational aspect of Nigeria’s bobsled ambitions, a different kind of investment for a different kind of return. For Adigun, a Chicago girl gone global citizen, there’s no place to go but down. The track, of course.

On Point

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Democracy is not something you put away for ten years, and then in the 11th year you wake up and start practicing again. We have to begin to learn to rule ourselves again.
—Chinua Achebe