Ghana's snow leopard skis for glory

October 14th, 2005

Rarely do you associate an African with skiing, but Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong wants to enter uncharted territory.

As Ghana's first professional skier, he aims to compete next February in the downhill race at the winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Nkrumah-Acheampong, who loves to be referred to as the "snow leopard", was actually born in the Scottish city of Glasgow, but grew up in Ghana's capital, Accra, where the nearest most people get to snow is imagining "cold cotton wool".

"The first time I saw snow was on TV back home in Ghana," Nkrumah-Acheampong told the BBC's Fast Track programme.
"Watching skiing then, I loved the way the skiers turned, moved fast in a zigzag manner and I said to myself, 'Some day I'll ski!'"


Ridiculed

Nkrumah-Acheampong, who moved to the UK in 2000, only took up the sport two years ago when he got a job as a receptionist at a skiing centre in Milton Keynes.

"I began skiing at the indoor ski centre and took a few lessons as they were free for staff. But I quit my job when the love affair with skiing grew because I felt I had a good chance of making it professionally," he explained.

Even though he was ridiculed when he first took to the slopes, Nkrumah-Acheampong's passion and perseverance have taken him far.

"For me, skiing is a daily thing. It's like a car, the more you drive, the more you perfect the art of driving," he said.

"When I started, people poked fun at me and never took me seriously, but after competing in some events in France - where I performed well against people who had begun the sport in their childhood - respect for me grew.

"They believed I could make it to the Olympics."


Attracted sponsorship

To qualify for the Olympic Games, skiers need to get their personal rating down to between 120-140 World Ski Federation points.

These are worked out after each competitive race - the nearer a skier finishes to the winner, the more points are deducted from their score.

Nkrumah-Acheampong started out with a rating of 1,000 and has been bringing his tally down steadily.

"I am close to the Olympic standard. Already I am on 275, so I have to cancel out 135 points before the winter Olympics deadline of 16 January."

He's been preparing for Turin in the French alpine resort of Meribel under the watchful eyes of former Olympians and he has already attracted thousands of dollars in sponsorship.


Easy medals

"I have been getting support from within and without. And my family has been a pillar of support and I know my faith in God will see me through."

Like most boys, Nkrumah-Acheampong tried out more traditional sports like football and athletics when growing up.

But he feels his experience should serve as an example to other African youngsters to try their hand at more unusual sports such as archery, rowing and darts to bring the continent easy medals.

And he says more people from Africa should consider strapping on some skis.

"I think Africans have a good chance of making it in skiing because of our physical structure. The only thing we have to overcome is the cold."