I was awe-struck by the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili (a luge competitor from Georgia) hours before the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and will forever associate this unfortunate incident with the games but as a young man whose roots hail from Ghana, I was also filled with joy and pride when I saw the Ghana flag raised high by the small contingent from the tiny West African country at the opening ceremony.
Many governments around the world pay millions of dollars each year to advertise their countries in the International media but in the case of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong ensured that we enjoyed free advertisement all around the world. Almost all the major media houses in the world (CNN, BBC, Reuters, Fox, etc.) interviewed this gentleman who was virtually unknown to the world prior to his qualification for the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. His pictures were splashed on the pages of newspapers, sports magazines, etc, all around the world. Even though Ghana is famous for producing international diplomats such as Kofi Annan (United Nations), scientists such Dr. Ave Kludze (NASA) and sporting legends such as Azumah Nelson (boxing) and Abedi Ayew Pele (football); very little is known about Ghana vis-à-vis winter sports. Hence the Snow Leopard’s participation in the Vancouver Games introduced Ghana to other people who might never have heard of this small but great country in Sub-Sahara Africa.
For those who know very little about Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong, he is the very first winter Olympic athlete to represent Ghana. He is nicknamed the Snow Leopard and sometimes called the One-Man Ski Team from Ghana. Even though he was born in Glasgow in Scotland on 19th December, 1974; he grew up in Ghana where he lived until he completed his tertiary education at the University of Cape Coast. He then went to the UK where he took up skiing whiles working as a receptionist at the Xcape skiing centre in Milton Keynes. Thanks to his coach, Denis Grigorev (a young Uzbekistani skier whose own Olympic hopes were crashed by his federation’s administrative ineptitude), his physical trainer Tim Allardyce and his manager Richard Harpham; the Snow Leopard competed at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (Feb 12-28) in the slalom event where he finished 47th out of 102 athletes most of whom hail from countries where skiing is a popular sport and even some of those countries are blessed with skiing resorts and many other skiing facilities.
Despite the performance of the Black Stars (the senior national team of Ghana) at the just ended African cup of Nations held in Angola, their performance as a team comes nowhere near the achievement of Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong aka the Snow Leopard who single-handedly ensured that Ghana was fully represented at the Winter Olympics. He captivated the world with his skills on the ski slopes around the world despite the fact that he had been in the sport for just about six years. Even though he is yet to win any International trophy, I still hold him in high esteem for his achievement as Booker T. Washington once said, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
As tourism is one of the few areas the government of Ghana is trying to develop, the contribution of the Snow Leopard towards this goal can never be over-emphasized. It is therefore necessary that the government bestows a national award on the Snow Leopard to encourage the youth to believe in themselves and send the message that with hard work and determination, they could get to the top and compete with the best in the world in anything they choose to do – sports, academics, business, etc.
Also, as we seek to develop lesser known sports in Ghana, I believe the feat of the Snow Leopard will go a long way to encourage the youth to take up other sporting disciplines other than the major ones such as football and boxing. I therefore think the least that the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG), the National Sports Council, the Ministry of Sports and all the other sporting voices in Ghana could do to show appreciation for the achievement of the Snow Leopard is to reward him with the Sports Personality of the Year 2009/2010 award.
On behalf of all the patriotic Ghanaians who took a lot of pride and inspiration from the achievement of the Snow leopard, I say ‘AYEKOOO’ (congratulations) to Mr. Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong. Even though you couldn’t win any medal at the Vancouver Winter Games, “a man’s position in life is not measured by the heights which he has attained, but by the depths from which he has come” (Booker T. Washington). Your name will forever be written in the history books of sports and as long as we live, we will always appreciate your contribution to sports in Ghana especially skiing.
Long live the Snow Leopard!
Long live Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong!
Long live Ghana!