February 9, 2018, was the day I got to make history for my country Ghana as its first skeleton Olympian and it’s only second winter Olympian. I also represented 30 million people, many of whom had never seen snow in their lives.
The morning of the opening ceremony was exciting. I woke up early and went to breakfast in the Olympic village. The Olympic village cafeteria was full of choices from western food to Korean local dishes and was packed with athletes from all over the world. After breakfast, I went to my room to do Point of View skeleton mind runs with my sliding coach Laurie Bausch, which is laying on my belly and envisioning myself sliding on the course. I also did a weightlifting workout and got a massage from my physical therapist, Michael Davidson. I followed that up with scheduled interviews with our Chef de Mission, Jerry Ahmed Shaib and the Ghana Olympic Committee sponsor and attaché, Kojo Choi with media teams around the globe.
From left to right: Michael Davidson, Jerry Ahmed Shaib, Akwasi Frimpong, Lauri Bausch
The Team gathered in the afternoon to choose our outfits to represent Ghana at the opening ceremony later in the evening. First, we chose an all long black warm jacket that covered us from our neck to our ankle because it was going to be -25 Celsius and windy. We quickly changed our minds, however, and chose our down jackets with colourful patterns since we were going to be on TV and wanted every Ghanaian to recognize us. After all, we were there to make our nation proud.
The next thing we had to do was plan how we were going to enter the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium. Our Chef de Mission, Jerry Ahmed Shaib came up with a great idea. We were going to clap to stay warm and sing “Osee yee, Yee Ayea, Osee Ghana Ohhh, Akwasi Ohhh, Yea Ayea”.
We had fun practising our entrance in our Olympic village on the 11th floor (I wonder if the French team next to us and the Jamaican Olympic team above us could hear our loud clapping and singing). From all over the world people started to post on social media how excited they were to watch team Ghana at the opening ceremony, and we received so many well wishes. It fueled our purpose and motivated us to continue to inspire everyone.
Olympic village ground level with Kojo Choi, Michael Davidson, Akwasi Frimpong, Lauri Bausch, Jerry Ahmed Shaib
That evening, all athletes, coaches, and officials gathered downstairs at the Olympic village around 6:15 PM local time to get ready to head toward the Olympic stadium. We were lined up by nation to head to the bus that was going to take us to the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, but before that happened, every athlete started taking pictures with each other, and, of course, exchanged pins which is a big tradition at the Olympic Games. The level of camaraderie was unlike anything I had ever seen. The Olympic spirit was felt the first day I stepped in the Olympic village on February 3, 2018, but was even stronger on the evening of the opening ceremony on February 9th.
We as athletes could not stop documenting this special day on our way to the stadium. My physical therapist Michael Davidson was nervous all day. It was big for him as well; he knew me from the Netherlands since I was 18-years-old, we had been through a lot together he was going to watch me make my nation proud and have my Olympic dreams become a reality.
Buses travelled from two Olympic villages; one from the PyeongChang mountainous region where I was staying and a smaller facility in the nearby beach resort town of Gangneung. The buses arrived safely at the Olympic stadium, where all 2,925 athletes from 92 nations, coaches and team officials gathered. More pictures were taken, and more pins were exchanged. I had so much fun mingling with athletes from so many different countries. This included getting on the picture with American actor, comedian, writer and producer Nicholas Kroll and witnessing the New Zealand Olympic team doing their impressive haka chant before the opening ceremony.
Akwasi Frimpong and Nigeria’s first bobsled team
Akwasi Frimpong and actor, Nicholas Kroll.
Around 7:30 pm all flagbearers from 92 nations were picked out of the 2,925 athletes to come for their national flags. At 7:45 PM we lined up outside the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in the dark for the opening ceremony. The 23rd Winter Olympic Games were about to kick off and that’s when I realized that Greece is always going first in the lineup during an Olympic Games opening ceremony since the first modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece. But the letter ‘G’ for Ghana was the first letter in the Korean Hangul alphabet, so Ghana was going right after Greece. Like Michael, I wasn’t nervous until five minutes before we entered the stadium. It was finally happening.
What seemed a fairy tale for so many years was actually about to happen, I was going to walk in this big stadium and kids from my country will see me raise the flag of our nation. It is the flag my ancestors shed blood and tears for, and now it was my turn to make them proud. It was my turn to prove that anything in life is possible, as long as you are willing to work for it. I was excited and nervous. I also had to pee, but it was too late now. I had to hold it in -25 degrees Celsius. It was showtime.
The announcer called on team Ghana around 8:15 pm and proudly all 5 of us walked in the stadium with bright lights, music and people cheering us on. I was holding the huge flag and let me tell you something, there is a technique to holding that huge flag which I had a hard time with waiving it around, luckily there are pictures of me not just having the flag in front of my face the whole time. while the rest of our team officials were clapping and singing “Osee yee, Yee Ayea, Osee Ghana Ohhh, Akwasi Ohhh, Yea Ayea, I stopped for a second, gave a Frimpong dance and carried on.
The opening ceremony ended with the Olympic oath which focuses on the sport without doping and without drugs, the true spirit of sportsmanship, the glory of sport and the honour of teams.
The Olympic flame was lit and spectacular performances were given by incredible artists.
Doing something you love and doing it for your country is one of the most rewarding things I was involved in. It’s an honour to take part in the Olympics and it’s even more special to do that for your birth country and meet so many athletes from different nations. It was also very special to witness history when North Korea and South Korea paraded together in the opening ceremony as unified Korea and 11 other African nations together with Ghana being part of a record-breaking Winter Olympic Games.
Sports brings people and nations together. The NBA is big, the Super Bowls are great, the world soccer tournaments are huge, but the Olympic Games are by far the most magical of sporting events, as they are an unparalleled show of international camaraderie you will ever witness.
Akwasi Frimpong at the finish at the PyeongChang Olympic bobsled track during one of his skeleton races on February 15, 2018
I’m grateful to all those who supported me and encouraged me to fight for my Olympic dreams after missing it twice. I dreamed and worked toward my Olympic dreams since I was 15-years-old and didn’t make it until I was 32-years-old. Giving up was an option but being patient and persistent nurtured the champion from within.
We all arrived back around midnight at our villages and everyone was hungry. Like zombies, we all stormed into the cafeteria. The cold leftover pizza at the cafeterias tasted better than ever.
Akwasi Frimpong is a former Dutch-Ghanaian sprinter, 2018 Winter Olympian for Ghana and the first African athlete in history to win a skeleton race. Frimpong is currently training for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games where he hopes to win Africa’s first ever Winter Olympic Games medal. This column was written by Akwasi Frimpong for Pulse Ghana. Visit Frimpong’swebpage to follow his Olympic journey
This article was written by Ghanaian Skeleton athlete Akwasi Frimpong for Pulse Ghana.