Ghana's 'Black Panther' reflects on his journey to become Africa's first ever Winter Olympic medallist
Ever wondered what type of person would voluntarily go head first down an ice track at up to speeds of up 140 km per hour?
Akwasi Frimpong is one such man.
The Ghanaian is his nation's first skeleton athlete and he competed at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics after just two years in the sport.
Fast-forward to 2019 and he is enjoying a fine season in the second-tier North American Cup, wearing his striking Black Panther uniform.
Here is Akwasi's first, exclusive blog for Olympic Channel, detailing his successful first half of the season on the world's most iconic and dangerous tracks, and revealing what happens behind the scenes on tour.
It has been a busy first half of the skeleton season as I continue to learn the sport with my eyes set on Beijing 2022.
This is just my third season in the sport and the work is paying off more than ever as me and my team know the journey to become the hope of a billion is not going to be easy.
The 'hope of a billion' is to show every African child they can become whatever they want whether it’s becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or an Olympian. For me it’s doing everything necessary to win Africa’s first winter Olympic medal.
The first race of the season in Whistler was difficult. It’s the fastest track in the world and has given me trouble in the past. Crashes at 140 km per hour while sliding on a cookie sheet with your chin 12 cm off the ice can be a painful lesson in trusting the process.
My new coach, Zach Lund, wanted me to focus on staying relaxed and use my instincts as I steered the sled. The results were a step in the right direction. I made my first final cut of 20 athletes into a second run and improved my sliding time by 1:58 seconds to 55.75 this year.
To make the experience even better was having my wife Erica and daughter Ashanti with me. Competing at this level often keeps me away from home and having them with me always helps.
It was nice to sleep in my own bed for the second race in Utah's Park City. I was harder on myself for this race. We wanted to focus on execution rather than placement (that will come later as we build toward Beijing 2022). Despite some inconsistency, I was pleased to improve my personal best at this track by one second to 51.16 and finish 13th overall.
I didn’t expect too much at the third race in Lake Placid, but have had some amazing results at one of the most famous tracks in the world. I improved my time by 1.81 seconds from last year to 56.56 seconds and had my best-ever finish of ninth place.
I believe my improvement on the ice comes great coaching, more experience and a dedicated workout routine. I've also been increasing my time in the gym, as opposed to sprint training on the track.
I have not been able to push my sled fast at the start of races because I am still recovering from an Achilles injury. We cut my lifting time from about two hours to one-hour to make sure I get strength training done, but also remain fresh for races.
Part of any athlete’s training also includes a good nutrition. Every morning I make sure to have eggs for breakfast with fruit. Coach Lund loved cooking bacon every morning for breakfast, which somehow always set off the alarm of where we were staying!
As I look ahead to the second half of the season which starts in Calgary, I want to work on my consistency and work out small mistakes that can cost a racer crucial time during a race.
There will also be something historic to look forward to in the Canadian city. Jennifer Boateng, a Ghanaian girl I recruited, will make her first monobob runs as she works to become Africa’s first female to compete in the one-person bobsleigh (where the pilot is the driver and brake person).
It will be the first time Ghana, a country in Africa with 27 million people, will have someone in a bobsleigh. It’s a way of showing what the 'hope of a billion' is all around. Jennifer’s involvement will show Ghanaian women they have the talent to be more involved in sport. It’s still a culture where women are held back from chasing their dreams.
I have already qualified for the World Championships in Whistler in March. However my coach and I have decided that we won't be participating so I can stay in Park City and work on my sliding skills.
This season’s success is just the beginning. As a student of the sport, I know I have a lot to learn on this journey to Beijing 2022, where I hope to bring home Africa’s first ever Winter Olympics medal.
Good luck to Akwasi Frimpong in his next race on 10th January in Calgary, Canada.