from Africa in Transition

A Nigerian in the Winter Olympics?

February 18, 2014

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa



United States

For an inspiring if also heartbreaking story, check out Drew Hinshaw’s Wall Street Journal piece on Seun Adebiyi, a Nigerian with a Yale law degree, and Wall Street experience who tried to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and compete in the Skeleton event. From all of sub-Saharan Africa, only three athletes qualified for the Sochi Olympics; they are from Togo and Zimbabwe. A Ghanaian and a South African came close to qualifying. In the end, Seun Adebiyi was defeated by funding shortages, stem cell leukemia/lymphoma, and finally a torn Achilles tendon.

Adebiyi had to find the money himself to train and his mother had to confront an uncooperative Nigerian Olympic Committee. Through her persistence, the committee eventually signed the necessary paperwork for Adebiyi to compete–but it did not return Hinshaw’s request for comment.

Adebiyi is a notable athlete. He broke Nigerian records in the 200 meter freestyle in swimming, but could not compete in the 2000 Olympics because of a slipped disk. This year, he was again done-in by health issues, but the story might have been different if from the beginning he had had the necessary funds to train competitively with the active support of a national Olympic committee.

Hinshaw’s piece chronicles how difficult it is for an athlete from sub-Saharan Africa to compete in the Winter Olympics, which are dominated by wealthy countries with snow. Germany and Norway are competing for the most gold medals, both of which have snow and are arguably two of the richest countries per capita in the world. Rounding out the top five for gold medals are Russia, the Netherlands, and the United States. A rich club.