Snow Leopard changes his spots
Ashley Terry, Global News: Monday, February 1, 2010 6:11 PM
Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong during the men's Giant Slalom qualifications on day 10 of the FIS World Ski Championships on February 12, 2007 in Are, Sweden.
Photo Credit: Alex Livesey, Getty Images
Like other young boys growing up in Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong played soccer and competed in athletics before settling on a most unusual sport " skiing.
Since joining the race circuit five years ago, the man known as the Snow Leopard has managed to become the first athlete from the country to qualify for the Winter Games.
He couldn’t be happier: “I feel like the man on the moon,” he said after qualifying for the Vancouver Olympics.
But while he has only been in the sport a short time, it has been an uphill battle.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1974 while his father completed a doctorate program, Nkrumah-Acheampong was raised just outside of Accra, Ghana, where the average temperature is 26C. “I’d only watched people skiing on TV,” he says.
He returned to his birthplace to study in 2000, and began working as a receptionist a few years later at the Xscape snow dome in Milton Keynes.
He was given free access to the artificial ski hill, and found that he had a natural talent for the sport. He soon started skiing on real snow.
Nkrumah-Acheampong began his racing career at age 30, and planned to qualify for the Turin Olympics in 2006. But a heartbreaking flight delay kept him from reaching his qualifying event in Iran.
He was determined to qualify for Vancouver, and collected points by participating in little-known competitions around the world, finally reaching his goal in 2009.
Nkrumah-Acheampong knows he will be the underdog in Vancouver. He has been compared to hapless British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle, and the Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the movie Cool Runnings.
“There ought to be a fourth-place podium for him having just got to the Olympics,” says manager Richard Harpham.
“On any one day he could have woken up and thought ‘Why am I doing this? Nobody cares whether I'm there or not.’ It's been his fight, no one else’s.”
But the unlikely skier just wants to compete. “I go in thinking ‘Ok, how many of these guys can I take out?’”
“Some of them have been skiing for 18 years, so it's really cool when I take someone out, it's like, ‘got you!’”