Snow man of Ghana thinks big
Ghana's Olympic hopeful finds going downhill an uphill struggle from his base in Milton Keynes We have had a Jamaican bobsleigh team. Now Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong wants to put Ghana on the world skiing map. He has walked away from his steady job as assistant arena manager at Planet Ice in Milton Keynes in order to qualify for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
He is admirably unconcerned that he has been skiing for only three years, that he will be 30 on Sunday and that, after learning on the indoor slope of Milton Keynes' Xscape Snowzone, he went on a mountain for the first time in Val d'Isère at the weekend.
"I know people will poke fun at me but I'm serious," Nkrumah-Acheampong said yesterday. "And I don't aim to just mess around and make up the numbers in Turin. My aim is an Olympic gold medal for Ghana."
He has moved on to Meribel now and yesterday enjoyed a full day in the mountains, even though it was not without mishap. "I got lost and ended up in someone's chalet," he said. "I'm trying to get my head around the mountains. They are so different from the narrow slope in the indoor centre. The mountains are huge and high and there are trees and shadows and lumps of ice and everything.
"And there are so many different directions to go in you can't decide. You can go left, right or straight on. In Milton Keynes you just ski down."
But he can ski. David Jacobs, his Scottish coach who is with him in France after reading a small piece about him in the local paper in Milton Keynes, said last night: "He said he wanted to make it to the Olympics and I was intrigued by that.
"It's a dangerous sport but he's serious about it and he did well today. I'm confident that I'll have him making world-class turns very soon, though he will need funds."
Nkrumah-Acheampong was inspired by the 1993 film Cool Runnings, which told the story of the Jamaican bobsleigh team who competed in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. "It's such a great film," he said. "People thought they couldn't do it but they showed they could."
He first saw skiing on television as a child in Ghana. "It looked so exciting. The skiers were going at such fantastic speeds and there were some spectacular crashes. I thought it was great fun."
His family is from Ghana, though he was born in Glasgow. He returned to Africa when he was one and moved to England three years ago, taking a job as a receptionist at the indoor slope in Milton Keynes. "I used to walk past the centre most days and thought it looked a fun place to work. When I tried the sport I realised I was quite good."
Steve Larner, news editor of the Milton Keynes Citizen, first called him "The Snow Leopard". Now Nkrumah-Acheampong is having a special suit designed around the animal, complete with ears.
Larner said: "He could be the next Eddie the Eagle or Eric the Eel." But Nkrumah- Acheampong said: "I want to win. I'm aiming for the top." A committed Christian, he added: "Everyone at church is behind me. Only one person stops you reaching the top and that's yourself."
His manager Fergie Miller said: "Kwame's got great enthusiasm and determination. Now he's running round to get Ghana recognised by the International Ski Federation."
Nick Fellows, the former British slalom champion who presents the Channel 4 programme World Cup Skiing said yesterday: "Kwame needs to get 120 points to qualify for Turin and with a little help from Lady Luck I think he can.
"It would be great for the sport and for the Olympic movement. Bode Miller will be the big favourite and everyone will be looking out for the Austrians. But we mustn't take ourselves too seriously. The sport is also about competing and about enjoyment."
Fellows, who watched Nkrumah-Acheampong in action in Val d'Isère, continued: "The sport can be very Germanic and hard, with just winners and losers. Kwame is something different.
"I thought he would go arse over tit first time but I was pleasantly surprised by how well he did. He also has a great attitude and a good team behind him."
But Nkrumah-Acheampong should be careful. The snow leopard, which can be found on the mountains of central Asia, has been categorised as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union.