PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic of, Feb 16 – Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong finished last in his Olympic debut but was a smash-hit nonetheless with his plucky efforts in the crackpot sliding sport of skeleton on Friday.
The 32-year-old, who spent two years selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door to finance his unlikely journey to Pyeongchang, now can’t wait to take a deserved break and go lie on a beach.
“I’m going to take my wife on vacation,” Frimpong told AFP.
“I don’t know where yet, but somewhere warm — I want the sun and the sand. Hopefully I can surprise her by taking her somewhere like Hawaii. Or maybe the Dominican Republic, where we went on honeymoon.”
Despite freezing temperatures Frimpong has lit up the Olympic skeleton competition.
He trailed home in 30th position — over 11 seconds behind eventual winner Yun Sung-bin of South Korea after his third and final run — but still felt like a champion.
“I came last but the most important thing is that I won the hearts of the people,” said Frimpong, who previously failed to qualify for the Olympics as a sprinter and in bobsleigh.
“The Olympic experience was awesome. I’ve never been in a place where so many people are cheering you on,” he added after becoming only the second athlete from Ghana to compete at a Winter Games.
“You feel like you’re a gold medallist, that’s how they make you feel each run. It’s incredible.”
Frimpong smiled sheepishly when asked what it feels like to throw oneself off an icy mountain head-first at 125kph (77mph) on what looks, to the casual observer at least, like a glorified baking tray.
– ‘Little bit crazy’ –
“You definitely have to be a little bit crazy,” he laughed. “But it’s also about chasing the unknown. You gotta try something different — life is all about trial and error.”
Watched by his wife Erica and their 10-month-old daughter Ashanti, Frimpong’s appearance triggered a huge roar from Korean fans, as well as a vocal, flag-waving group of supporters from his native Ghana.
“It was such an emotional moment for me because I remember in July 2015 my wife told me she didn’t want me to be 99 years old and still chasing my Olympic dream,” said Frimpong, who moved to the Netherlands when he was just eight.
“My wife wanted me to go after it and without her support and her pushing me, doing two, three jobs while she was pregnant, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Before following in the footsteps of Ghana’s “Snow Leopard” Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, who competed in slalom skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Frimpong struggled to convince sponsors he was serious about skeleton.
But after becoming one of the biggest stars of the Pyeongchang Olympics, adrenaline junkie Frimpong already craves more.
“I still have a lot to improve on,” he said. “I came last but it doesn’t matter. I’ve only been doing it for a year and a half.
“The rest of the world doesn’t understand the work you have to do behind the scenes,” added Frimpong.
“But I know what it takes to get here and I’m just really eager and excited for the next four years.”