African winter sports athletes have suffered a blow after the International Olympic Committee denied a request to reinstate continental quotas in bobsleigh and skeleton for the Beijing Games, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Thursday.
Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong was just outside the skeleton top 60, a prerequisite to qualify for the February 4-20 Beijing Olympics, when his chances faded after he tested positive for COVID-19 while training for his last three qualifying races.
Frimpong and Nigeria’s Simidele Adeagbo became the first African skeleton racers to compete at the Olympics in 2018 thanks to the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation’s (IBSF) continental quota system.
However, the system was dropped for the Beijing Games and though Frimpong’s coaches asked the IOC last month to reinstate the continental quota system, they failed to change the stance.
“In this specific case, the Olympic qualification process for Beijing 2022 was proposed and approved by IBSF in December 2019 and this was subsequently approved by the IOC Executive Board, including the athlete quota,” IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell wrote in the letter obtained by Reuters.
“Following this, and understanding that we cannot increase the number of qualified athletes, giving an athlete a quota place which is not according to the qualification criteria would consequently imply the exclusion of another athlete qualified in the current qualification system.
“Accordingly, we regret to confirm that an additional out of quota place cannot be allocated to Mr Frimpong.”
Four years ago, Frimpong qualified for the Pyeongchang Games via the quota system despite being ranked 99th in the world.
Frimpong, whose journey is documented in a short film being released on Monday entitled “Black Ice” produced by Swiss sportswear company On, said the IOC decision was tough to accept.
“Mentally it has been very hard for me,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview. “I feel devastated and broken and not sure if this is all really happening because my dream and hard work is just snatched away from me due to something out of my own control.”
Frimpong, 35, said his biggest dream already came true when he competed in the 2018 Olympics and that it was too soon to decide whether he will aim for a spot at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy’s Milan and Cortina D’Ampezzo.
“This is a discussion I’m going to have with my wife, with my family, with my partners and see what’s possible,” he said.
“Over the last couple of years it has been super hard for me as … an athlete from Ghana, Africa in a winter sport to have the sponsorship and support I need to be competitive and compete against some of these countries that have deep programmes.”