Nigeria bobsledders on cusp of Olympic dream
By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - Nigeria may be within grasp of an historic first ever appearance in the winter Olympics, but the three members of the Super Eagles women's bobsleigh team have bigger goals than simply qualifying to race next year in Pyeongchang.
Make no mistake, this is not "Cool Runnings II", a sequel to the Jamaican bobsleigh team's winter fantasy immortalised in the Hollywood hit movie.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga will not be heading to February's Games just to be a feelgood side story, They are looking for a medal.
No African nation has ever competed in an Olympic bobsled event and for this trio of trail-blazing Nigerian women getting to the winter Games is where their journey begins, not ends.
They took a big step towards that goal this week in Calgary by completing the fifth of their required five qualifying races on the same track that the Jamaican bobsled team shot to global fame at the 1988 Winter Games.
"We have goals," Adigun, the driver and driving force behind the dream of a Nigerian team told Reuters in a telephone interview. "I know the goal I have as a driver is to drive us to the podium, that's just the competitor in me.
"Realistically, the goals we set we're for the program.
"A lot of our goals have been met just establishing this entire entity, starting this process and making our way to the Games.
"Obviously, the bigger goal is to just be as competitive as we can and obviously shoot for the podium."
Although the Nigerians have achieved the qualifying standard, there is still work to be done.
Countries hoping to race in Pyeongchang must be in the top 40 of the global rankings on Jan. 14 after seven World Cup races.
"It is not possible for any team to qualify for the Olympic Games this early," Nicola Minichiello, the North American Cup Coordinator for International Bobsleigh Skeleton Federation (IBSF), told Reuters in an email.
"If we base their results on last year's rankings the team are likely to qualify, however this will not be confirmed until much closer to the time."
While the Nigerians have a little farther to go, they have come a long way.
The reality of competing in South Korea began in a Texas garage in 2014, where Adigun, born in the United States to Nigerian parents, made her dream start to take shape by hammering together a makeshift sled out of wood and scraps that she named the "Mayflower".
A former sprinter who competed in 100 metres hurdles for Nigeria at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Adigun recruited brakewomen Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga to make her dream theirs.
The three women have plenty of drive, ambition and pure athletic ability but were short on cash as the hard work of getting to the Olympics was split between training and fund-raising.
Adigun, who fell in love with the sport as a brakewoman in the U.S. bobsled program, estimated the Olympic bid to cost around $150,000.
With the help of fund-raising efforts from boot camps to dances, a gofundme page and the support of the IBSF emerging nations program and Team VISA, which is backing 52 athletes from 20 countries in 15 sports, the Nigeria bobsledders say they now have enough money to fuel their Olympic dream.
"We did a homecoming in April as team to just go and introduce ourselves to the country as the team so people would know we are serious," Adigun said. "This is something we wanted to do for the continent and the country."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)