Nigerian Women's Bobsled team Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga and Seun Adigun pose upon their arrival in Lagos this week. Photo: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Who says that sport and politics don’t mix?

Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, is a winter sports fan who has his own ski resort.

“Rocket Man”, as Donald Trump tartly calls him, duly secured a rapprochement with South Korea to have athletes from both countries march together at the Winter Olympics, which start in Pyeongchang on Friday.

There will even be a combined female ice hockey team, preserving the myth that sport heals all.

This is rather better than the last time South Korea hosted an Olympics – its northern neighbours blew up a South Korean airliner a few months before the 1988 Summer Games.

Politics has never been far from the heart of the Olympics, not least because of the vast shop window it provides.

Adolf Hitler himself opened the Winter Games in Garmisch and the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936, the last time the two events were hosted in the same year.

Four years ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin hoped to use the Sochi Winter Olympics to demonstrate his country’s muscle – to disastrous effect.

Russia cleaned up the medals table, only to be found to have engineered a state-sponsored doping programme.

The IOC promptly banned the Russians, 11 of whom were kicked out for life.

Despite this, 169 of its athletes will be in Pyeongchang thanks to a curious compromise that ensures they will compete as neutrals – political expediency at its finest.

As for the Games, there is much to look forward to. I challenge you to watch curling and not be utterly fascinated.

As Charles Barkley, the basketballer, famously said: “Curling is not a sport. I called my grandmother and told her she could win a gold medal because they have dusting in the Olympics now.”

There will be an added dimension with mixed doubles, one of four new events on the Games agenda, the others being big air snowboarding, long track speed skating and alpine skiing for teams.

If you have no more than a passing interest in the Games, do yourself a favour and just watch snowboarding, which is spectacular and requires a degree of insanity from its participants.

The Winter Games have failed to resonate across Africa, predictably enough, but this sentiment might soften if the Nigerian women’s bobsled team do more than just show up.

Former track-and-field stars Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga broke dog-eared stereotypes by qualifying, although if you scratch a little deeper, you discover that none were born in Nigeria and had ample snow to train in – in their US backyard.

Nonetheless, they have captured the imagination, not least when Ellen DeGeneres invited the trio on to her television show. And two weeks ago, Serena Williams gave them a shout-out on Twitter.

For all their energy, they will never do as well as bobsledder Eddie Eagan, who in 1932 became the first man to win golds at both Summer and Winter Games, having captured gold in boxing in Antwerp a dozen years previously.

The Nigerians will carry the hopes of a nation, if not an entire continent, when they fire up their bobsleigh in one of the fastest, most dynamic events at the Olympics.

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As will Akwasi Frompong, who will be the first athlete from Ghana to appear in the Winter Olympics.

He will compete in the skeleton, so-named for the shape and appearance of the original sleds.

Nigeria’s Simidele Adeagbo will also be having a crack, ensuring more than passing interest from supporters across the continent.

Even SA will be represented, with Connor Wilson entered in the giant slalom.

Might they follow in the footsteps of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards or the Jamaican bobsledders, who became a part of folklore for their unlikely participation? Perhaps.

If your interests are more classical, figure skating may appeal.

The dazzling costumes, dramatic music and tension as the scores are totted up make for a fascinating blend.

Unusually, the sport gives respectful nods to its champion forebears: the “axel”, named after the star of the 1930s, Axel Paulsen.

Similarly, the “salchow”, a challenging jump in the air, borrows its origins from Ulrich Salchow, an Olympic champion who won the world championship 10 times.

Settle in. The Games may be out of your comfort zone, but you might be surprised by what you find.


Sunday Tribune