Ghana's 'Snow Leopard' qualifies to ski in 2010 Winter Olympics
First there was Eddie the Eagle, and then the Jamaican bobsled team. Now, get ready for the Snow Leopard, the latest in the history of unlikely competitors at the Winter Olympics.
Earlier this week Alpine skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, whose nickname is the Snow Leopard, qualified to compete in the 2010 Games in Vancouver, making him the first person from Ghana to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
Nkrumah-Acheampong has taken an unlikely path to the Olympics. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, and raised in Ghana, he put on skis for the first time just six years ago after he moved from the snowless Ghana back to the U.K.
"I'd done some other sports, so my balance was not too bad," he told CBC News in an interview from the U.K. on Thursday.
Nkrumah-Acheampong spent his first two years on skis working at an indoor ski centre in Milton Keynes, England.
He didn't ski outdoors until four years ago when he decided to get serious and started competing in international events in an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
That attempt drew a lot of attention and the sponsorships needed to keep going.
Finally his Olympic dreams came one step closer to reality when earlier this week Nkrumah-Acheampong qualified for the slalom and giant slalom events for the 2010 games under the International Ski Federation's complicated points system.
He knows realistically he won't win a medal, but he still wants people to respect his ability.
"For the Olympics, I want to ski down that mountain. People should be able to watch me and say, 'Wow, that guy is skiing very well for skiing only six years. And he's not last.'"
Two decades ago, the U.K.'s Eddie the Eagle was treated as an embarrassment by the ski jumping establishment when he competed at the Calgary Winter Olympic Games.
Nkrumah-Acheampong said he has faced ridicule too, but has now been accepted by his peers.
"Once you can come down a tough mountain, prove that you can do it, everybody is fine with you," he said.
The Snow Leopard will be easy to spot next February. He will be Ghana's flag bearer and likely the only skier wearing a leopard-print suit.