More than a lion helmet: The Olympic journey of Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong

There’s a lion on his helmet, its mouth is open wide. A rabbit is escaping from the mouth. So, too, is Akwasi Frimpong, whose face is nearly visible behind a tinted visor.

The image is based on the “Rabbit Theory,” in which a rabbit is in a cage surrounded by lions. When the cage opens, the rabbit must sprint. Frimpong likens himself to the rabbit. A former coach referred to lions as negative people and things going on in his life. For the longest time, Frimpong couldn’t escape those lions.

In PyeongChang as a Winter Olympian for Ghana, Frimpong finally is. “Going to PyongChang after 15 years,” Frimpong told the BBC, “I’ve worked really hard to eventually become the rabbit my coach always wanted me to be.”

Frimpong’s road to PyeongChang has been a winding one. Frimpong was born in Ghana, but when he was eight, he moved with his mother to the Netherlands as illegal immigrants in search of a better life. There, Frimpong gravitated towards track and field, where he became a national junior champion in the 200 meters at 17.

In 2008, he was granted official residency in the Netherlands, and hoped to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track — but an Achilles injury halted those plans. Instead of giving up on his Olympic dreams, Frimpong went for a spot on the Dutch bobsled team, thanks to the movie that’s inspired countless bobsledders. “I had my doubts [about bobsled], but then I remembered Cool Runnings and thought to myself, ‘If Jamaicans can do it, so can I,’” Frimpong told the BBC.

Making the Olympic bobsled team proved to be elusive, too, and it seemed Frimpong would finally give up on his Olympic dream — even after another coach told him he should give the skeleton a try. Frimpong’s wife was having none of it, though.

“I didn’t think I really wanted to do it,” he told the BBC. “A third sport trying out again, I was afraid of getting disappointed again. But my wife is the one that told me, ‘Hey, I don’t want you to be 99 years old and still be whining about your Olympic dream, so let’s go for it.’”

He did. And he qualified for the games in January, as an athlete for Ghana.

Frimpong isn’t in medal contention in PyeongChang — he is in 30th place after the first two runs — but the Ghana star is living his Olympic dream, and he’s inspiring those in Ghana.

“I battled for 13 years,” Frimpong told CNN. “Giving up was an option, but being patient and persisten nurtured the champion from within. Me going to the Games is a message to anyone out there that is dreaming of something big.” 

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