Akwasi Frimpong making history at Winter Olympics

Utah Valley University graduate is second Winter Olympian from Ghana

PARK CITY (ABC4 Sports) - He could very well be the most unlikely Olympian at the Winter Games.

Akwasi Frimpong, at Utah Valley University graduate and former UVU track star, is just the second Winter Olympian ever from his home country of Ghana, as he will compete in the skeleton next week in South Korea

Born in Ghana, Frimpong moved to the Netherlands at the age of 8. He came to UVU in 2008 where he ran track.

"This is actually where I rediscovered myself as an athlete," he said. "I actually got a lot of training help from UVU, so that's how I got really close to my goal."

That goal was making the 2012 Summer Olympics as part of the Netherlands relay team, but a tendon injury ended that dream. Akwasi still had Olympic aspirations, though, so he earned a spot as the brakeman for the Dutch bobsled team, but narrowly missed qualifying for the 2014 games in Sochi. Akwasi thought his athletic career was over.

"My shoulders were a little bit down," he said. "My head was down for about two years. I did not get into anything to do with sports. I went to use my degree from UVU and in between I went to sell vacuums as well."

Wait, from training for the Olympics to selling vacuums? How did that go?

"Well, it went really well," Frimpog said. "In 2014, in February I was number one in the USA, so I did pretty well."

Two years ago, Frimpong's bobsled coach told him not to give up and try different sport, skeleton.

"I didn't think I really wanted to do it," he said. "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."

And Akwasi went for it, although he admits, it was a little frightening at first .

"It was very scary going the first time head first with the skeleton," Frimpong said. "My chin was only about five inches from the ice. It's going so fast, about 80 or 90 miles per hour. Your brain has to get used to it."

If Akwasi was going to finally realize his Olympic dreams, he wanted to represent Ghana and make history as just the second Winter Olympian ever from his home country.

"At the age of 31, I wanted to give back to my country," he said. "To show the misconception about Africa, about Ghana is not real. There is a lot of success, a lot of great stories there, a lot of talented people."

It can take anywhere from four to five years to race fast enough to qualify for the Olympics. Akwasi did it in less than two. When he heard the news three weeks at four in the morning, he was ecstatic.

"I went to kiss my family, my wife, my baby," he recalled. "They went back to bed while the media started to call me. It was a great feeling. I haven't totally reflected on it, but it's only getting better and better."

Akwasi knows his chances of winning a medal at the Olympics are pretty slim. But that's not why he's doing this. His main quest is to start a tradition of Winter Olympians from Ghana. In fact, he's already started a bobsled and skeleton program in his home country.

"We don't have ice, but I've built wooden sleds so that the kids can actually learn about bobsled and skeleton," he said. "I just want to motivate a lot of kids in my country, to get them to come out of their comfort zone, to chase the unknown, to be able to dare to dream."

No matter how Akwasi does next week, he's already become an Olympic hero in his home country, where back home they say, Ghana in 60 seconds.

"I don't know if I'm a hero, but I'm definitely there to motivate the people of my country," Frimpong said. "But the kids and everybody there are excited. It's not just about myself, it's more than that. I just want to be able to leave something behind that can be cherished, that can be followed, that can outlive me."

The skeleton races at the Winter Olympics will begin February 15th.

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