The 2018 Winter Olympics are expected to unfold against a backdrop of political tension in the Korean Peninsula, particularly between the leaders of the United States and North Korea; nevertheless, sports analysts are expecting lots of excitement as winter athletes from some previously non-participating nations will make their debut in February. One such athlete is Shannon-Ogbani Abeda, a slalom skier who will represent the African nation of Eritrea.
Participation by African winter Olympians is a very novel affair because most countries in the Continent lack the climate conditions required to train in events such as skiing. To this effect, Abeda’s training has been entirely conducted in the Rocky Mountains. Abeda was born 21 years ago in Calgary; he is the son of Eritrean immigrants who arrived in Canada during one of the worst times for that African nation.
The decision to represent his ancestral African nation was something that Abeda decided in 2011, and he has never looked back. His first time wearing the red, green and blue colors of the Eritrean flag was at the age of 16 during the Youth Olympics in Austria. He did not qualify for the controversial 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and would later suffer an injury that kept him off the mountain for a few months. Qualifying for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea while recovering was a challenging affair for Abeda, but he has enjoyed significant support from the Eritrean diaspora in Canada.
Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa; it was once a proud region within the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia, but socioeconomic development and respect of human rights have proven elusive amidst a political climate of instability, armed conflict, radical militancy, and corruption. For this reason, thousands of Eritrean families choose to seek a better life elsewhere as refugees and immigrants.
In terms of sporting competitions, Eritrean athletes are mostly distinguished in long distance running, football and cycling, but even in these disciplines the only Olympic glory achieved has been a sole bronze medal. Qualifying for the Winter Olympics was not something that has ever crossed the minds of sporting officials in Eritrea.
Abeda is anxious to carry the flag of his parents’ nation during the opening day parade at Pyeongchang; however, he is familiar enough with his discipline to know that his chances of earning hardware are slim. What Abeda is setting his sights on is making it to the finals of the slalom competitions; once he makes it to that stage, anything can happen while barreling down the snowy mountains of South Korea, and he would be closer to earning a second Olympic medal for an African country that could certainly use a celebration of national pride.