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It was never really about challenging for Olympic gold. Or silver. Or bronze.
It was about getting there. About chasing a dream. About opening a door.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga went three-for-three in Pyeongchang.
The Houston-based team of former track stars became the first Nigerians to compete in the bobsled competition at the Winter Olympics. That they were 3.50 seconds behind the leaders after two runs and wound up finishing last in the 20-team field – 7.15 seconds behind Germany’s gold medalists Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz – isn’t the point.
That they lived their dream and inspired others is.
“It’s quite amazing,’’ Adigun said after the final Olympic run. “I’m overwhelmed with joy and overwhelmed with the idea of knowing that history was made and we gave everything we had to do it.
“. . .This was just one of those days that you can’t really describe. Full of all kinds of emotions – full of relief, full of history.”
Adigun, who pulled the team together, was the most experienced of the group. And she wasn’t even that experienced.
In December, she likened competing at the qualifying level to being a 16-year-old who just got her driver’s license and jumping into a car at Daytona.
“Every time I cross the finish line,’’ Adigun said, “I thank God we survived.’’
The former University of Houston hurdler, who competed in the 2012 Summer Games for Nigeria, trained the for three months and made the 2015 U.S. National bobsled team as a brakeman. She had so much fun that she talked to Onwumere, who ran at UH when Adigun was an assistant coach, and got her on board. Then they added Omeoga and formed the Bobsled and Skeleton Federation of Nigeria. Both Onwumere and Omeoga were Adigun’s brakemen.
That done, Adigun started a crowd-funding site to help raise $75,000 for their journey and built a makeshift wooden bobsled for training. With no snow in Houston, they practiced by using the bobsled on a running track.
The road to the Olympics wasn’t easy.
Once they got proficient, they had to make it through five Olympic-sanctioned qualifers just to get to South Korea. As they made their way through the races, they attracted attention much like the Jamaican bobsled team that competed 30 years ago and inspired the movie, Cool Runnings.
They even caught the eye of Ellen DeGeneres and they flew to California to dance and chat with Ellen on her television show.
Along the way, they landed with Team Visa and got a sponsorship from Under Armour, which featured them in a campaign called Ice Blazers: Expect the Unexpected.
They inspired not just Nigerian athletes, but also athletes everywhere with their 18-month, start-to-finish sprint to the Olympics.
“You can do whatever you want,” Omeoga said. “If you see our faces and we inspire you to do something, then that’s absolutely all we ask for.”
Before they knew it, they were off to Pyeongchang where reporters couldn’t get enough of their story.
“You have these outlandish kind of ideas, and then all of the sudden you see them slowly but surely manifest themselves into reality,” Adigun told USA TODAY. “Every milestone that comes, everyone that gets involved, you start to see it come together.”
Not even a very ragged final run put a damper on things. Afterward, they were talking about the interest they stirred up among Nigerian athletes and Beijing in 2022.
“I don’t think it’s hit us how impactful this whole process is actually going to be in the long run,” Adigun said. “We’re so honored and humbled to be in the position that we are, to be able to show people that impossible is nothing. And that you don’t have to quantify things by just a result, a first place, second place or any time.”
Adigun expressed her joy at simply completing this journey with tears after the final run. And, she hinted that this might well be the start of a new journey for this bobsled team.
“By God’s grace you will see Nigeria in Beijing,” she told Olympic reporters. “We did everything we could. People are super-stoked back in Nigeria. We just pray all of our resilience does foster into some future athletes.”