The Nigerian bobsled team didn’t bring home the gold. But they didn’t leave the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang empty-handed.
After picking up bobsledding skills only 15 months prior to competing, Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere’s green and white Nigerian flags are flying high with pride in South Korea. These women have done something no one else has done before.
On Tuesday, the trio became the first Olympic bobsled team in history to represent an African nation. And they didn’t take their accomplishment lightly.
Adigun, the driver, recalls watching Simone Biles, Ibtihaj Muhammad and other black athletes break barriers at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil and feeling inspired.
“I got chills on my skin,” she told HuffPost in December during an event for the team’s partnership with Visa. “I remember how it made me feel seeing them and knowing the molds that were being broken by their perseverance and by their just dominance in whatever sport it was that they were competing in.”
The Nigerian-American athlete, who represented the U.S. track and field team in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, recruited Omeoga and Onwumere and set out to make a mark after realizing that no African nation had ever had a bobsled representative at the 2018 Games.
The trio, who grew up in the U.S and all have a background in track and field, trained in Houston. They crafted a sleigh and dubbed it the Mayflower. Their fast-track training, combined with sponsors who donated to their GoFundMe, earned them a spot in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Adigun and Omeoga competed in Tuesday’s two-woman bobsled event, finishing the heat in 52.21 seconds. Though they finished in 20th place out of 20, the time was a personal best for them at the Olympics and a reason for further celebration.
Onwumere said she believes it’s important “to represent not only people of color but Africa... we represent so many things in one and to be able to positively represent that says something.”
They have had a lot to celebrate, even months before they first qualified for the 2018 Games in November. They’ve been featured in headlines and in viral dancing videos, as fans and admirers beam with pride at the door they flung open. It created a ripple as the trio inspired Simidele Adeagbo to break a barrier of her own, becoming the first skeleton racer to represent Nigeria at this year’s Olympics.
“Growing up as a little kid, you always look for people who either represent you in some sort of fashion,” Omeoga told HuffPost. “Whether that be the clothes they wear, whether that be the way that they talk, anything like that so to see that we could be that… that aha moment for certain people, that’s absolutely amazing to me.”
The team made their final run on Wednesday. Though they didn’t earn any medals, they were still victorious in showing the world another form of black girl magic it’s never seen.
“This is the first,” Onwumere said. “This is gonna go down in history.”
They hope to inspire others, especially from the continent, to take on this and other winter sports in the future.
“It takes a special type of individual to take on a fear of the unknown. And that is exactly what we are trying to show people that you can do,” Adigun said. “[People from] a sub-Saharan climate can do anything. There’s just way too much innovation in this world for people to think they need to be limited to their own environments.”
“All that we represent is everything that you see,” she added. “That is very powerful.”