‘Terrifying’ – Nigerian women fight fear to make Olympic bobsleigh history

As they prepare to make Olympic history in Pyeongchang, Nigeria’s women’s bobsled team admit they battle their demons every time they climb into the sled.

Being billed as “Cool Runnings” reloaded in the West African country’s first Winter Games appearance, Seun Adigun and Akuoma Omeoga knelt in silent prayer Wednesday before hurtling down the track at breakneck speeds they know could kill them.

“The first time I got in a sled it was honestly terrifying,” driver Seun told AFP in an interview after training.

“The only thing that saved my peace of mind was that I used to be a gamer, so initially I just treated it like a video game,” added the bubbly 31-year-old, who represented Nigeria as a hurdler at the 2012 London Olympics.

“That kind of helps dampen the fear because when you get in a sled you really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

“We also pray! If there’s a ritual that we do that’s what it is.”

Thirty years after the Jamaican men’s bobsled team took the sports world by storm at the 1988 Calgary Olympics – immortalised in the hit Hollywood movie “Cool Runnings” – Nigeria’s women are poised to become Pyeongchang’s unlikeliest stars.

But it still takes nerves of steel to launch yourself down an icy mountain in an oversized tin can at 150kph.

“Of course you have to think about the dangers,” said the Texas-based Seun, who invited fellow runners Akuoma and Ngozi Onwumere to compete in the two-man bobsleigh in September 2016.

“You have to accept it and embrace it before you can actually apply what you need to protect yourself.

“It’s a ripping run of speed and being jolted around and sucked down into the bottom of the sled, whether it’s head first or bum first – you roll with the punches,” she chuckled.

“It’s very similar to being thrown down a hill in a trash can – you just don’t really know where you’ll end up sometimes.”

Wooden sled

The daredevil ladies, who will fly Nigeria’s flag with Simidele Adeagbo in the women’s skeleton, all grew up in the United States with a strong sense of pride in their African roots.

READ MORE: Nigerian athlete slides into history

Their steep learning curve began by learning push starts at home in Houston in a wooden sled cobbled together by Seun using scrap materials from a hardware store.

The Nigerians booked their Olympic spot last November after Seun broke three helmets in qualifying, but with their long-awaited debut just days away Seun revealed they have yet to attempt a start at full pelt.

READ MORE: Africa’s first woman skeleton Olympian: ‘I am prepared’

“We honestly have never actually sprinted behind the sled yet,” she said with a grin.

“We actually have just done maybe 70% hits because everything we have being doing to this point has been survival!”

The Nigerian women take no issue with inevitable comparisons to the trail-blazing Jamaicans.

“We feel honoured to say the least,” said Akuoma.

“Crazily enough I actually met the driver of the of the first Jamaican bobsled team (Dudley Stokes) today. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, we’re being compared to you!’ So it’s definitely been very cool.”

Seun added: “It’s so humbling. They set the tone and created a path where 30 years later people still consider them as legends.”

She also insists she has no regrets about her hair-raising choice of career, regardless of what happens in Pyeongchang.

“Everyone thought I was crazy,” she said of her decision to take up the sport.

“They were like ‘wait a minute – bobsled, like the winter sport? You live in Texas where it’s hot, your family and you are from Nigeria. But you’re going to be playing in snow?’

“We’re just going to give everything we’ve got and wherever the chips fall we’re going to roll with it. We’re doing this for Nigeria, so hell yeah!”

© Agence France-Presse

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Alastair Himmer
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