Akwasi’s remarkable journey is one of triumph in the face of difficulties that earned him a spot in the 2018 Winter Olympics, becoming the first male West-African skeleton athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Akwasi was born and raised in Ghana by his grandmother, Minka who cared for 10 children, including Frimpong in a one-room home barely four square metres in size.
Growing up in poverty the possibility of involvement in any form of competitive sport never entered Akwasi. At the age of eight, Akwasi travelled to the Netherlands to join his parents in an attempt to seek a better life, and that’s where his natural talent in sports was discovered by Sammy Monsels, a former athlete and Olympian from Surinam.
Akwasi explains. “He (Sammy Monsels) saw me running in a relay when I was 16. My team was way behind, but I caught up and won the race for us”. “It was Sammy who really instilled the dream of the Olympics in me. Within two months, I went to the Dutch Junior Indoor Championships and missed out on the 60m final by 0.01 seconds. That summer, I missed out on the 100m final, again by 0.01 seconds… I asked my coach what I needed to do to become a gold medallist. He spoke to me about self-discipline and it all started from there.”
That year, Akwasi became the new Dutch junior 200m champion… but there was one major obstacle: Akwasi family did not have official status in Holland.
“It was tough. As a kid, it was hard not being able to go on school trips because if they were leaving the country, I was afraid I would be arrested. I’d always lied and said that my mum had lost my passport. I got good at lying about it. I told lies because the other kids were laughing at me – I was a kid from Africa, they’d call me ugly, they’d say that I must be illegal because I had no passport. I was treated like a criminal. So I would act tough and pretend it didn’t bother me but I cried every day.”
In 2003, a lucky accident helped Akwasi to he enter Johan Cruyff school. ” My neighbour, who also happened to be a journalist told me about the Johan Cruyff school where you can combine sport and education. But then I had to tell her my secret that I was an illegal immigrant. Until then, nobody else knew about it… So she wrote about my story and the Johan Cruyff school took a risk and accepted me despite the fact I was still an illegal resident.”
Four years later his dedication paid off and he was named an international student of the year.
“I was supposed to go to Barcelona to receive the award but, because of my status, I couldn’t go. So Johan Cryuff came to Amsterdam to give me the award. He believed in me and the fact that someone like that – a legend – believed in me was amazing.”
When Akwasi finally was granted residency in the Netherlands, he looked on course to qualify for the Dutch athletics team for London 2012, but a misfortune injury on his Achilles stopped his chance.
“After missing out on London 2012, I was approached by the Dutch bobsleigh coach Nicola Minichiello about joining the team. I had my doubts, but then I remembered Cool Runnings and thought to myself: If Jamaicans can do it, so can I!
After six months wavering, Akwasi finally decides to join the Dutch national bobsleigh team for the Winter Olympics Sochi 2014. But as the second reserve, he just missed the cut. At this point, he decides to focus on other ventures, and forget his Olympic dream.
“My wife looked at me one day and said she knew something was bothering me… I still had that dream to get to the Olympics. I knew if I could fulfil my dream, I would be at peace. She said she didn’t want me to be 99 years old and still whining about the Olympics!”
By then, Akwasi was studying at Utah Valley University (UVU) and tried his hand at a different winter sport, the skeleton. “I took part in a skeleton trial in Utah… and I loved it. The first time was really scary; it’s so fast, your chin is about three inches from the ice and you have no brakes. But when I got to the finish, I just wanted to go back to the start and do it again. I just loved the feeling. It was like going through a canyon on a motorcycle with no speed limit; it was like dancing with the ice!”
“I set myself the goal of becoming the first African to win a medal in Winter Olympic history. I knew it would take me four to six years to become really good, so initially, my target was the 2022 Games. But when I started racing in 2016, I surprised myself. A lot of coaches said that I was sliding like someone who had been doing the sport for several years.”
By the end of the year, he had reached 95th in the world rankings and was started thinking about PyeongChang 2018.
“If I was qualified then I’ll be the first black skeleton athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics. Getting there would be huge,” Akwasi said.
On January 15th Akwasi earned himself a spot in the 2018 Winter Olympics, becoming the first male West-African skeleton athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics. Akwasi will begin competition in the male skeleton events on Feb. 15.
“I truly believe this is what the Olympic spirit is all about. It’s not just about conquering, it’s about the struggle.
“If there’s anything in this world that can bring hope, it’s sport. And if I can make my dream become a reality, it shows that anybody can do it.”