Akwasi Frimpong: The Skeleton in Ghana's bare winter cupboard

A place in PyeongChang is the fulfillment of a life-long dream for Skeleton driver Akwasi Frimpong, who is heading to the Olympics just six years after he thought his hopes had been crushed for good.

Frimpong will be the only African man competing in South Korea in February, and is Ghana's second-ever winter Olympian. He will be the least experienced and the least prepared, given he took up the sport only two years ago, but likely the most watched skeleton driver in the field.

His confirmation in mid-January had been several years in the making. Originally a sprinter, one who competed at international level for the Dutch youth set-up, Frimpong's first Olympic ambitions were for the summer version.

But in 2012, on the brink of making the Netherlands 100m relay team, injury reared its ugly head and scuppered his chances.

That injury-induced absence was a crushing blow, and as it became clear an athletics comeback was going to be an incredibly tough ask, Holland bobsled coach Nicola Minichiello offered him a new route.

"She convinced me that I could thrive in bobsledding and the skeleton event because of my background as a sprinter, since those events rely heavily on speed," the powerfully built Frimpong tells KweséESPN.

"I took her advice and have liked it since."

The versatile athlete, who left Ghana at the age of eight, was additionally motivated by his Other Half: "My wife kept telling me that she doesn't want me to complain when I am very old about not achieving my Olympic dream, so I decided to give it a really good go."

Minichiello, a three-time Winter Olympian for Great Britain and a World Champion in the two-woman bobsled, told KweséESPN that she had been impressed by Frimpong's "dedication and focus, as well as great speed over the first 30m of a sprint".

That sheer speed has won over his current coach Lauri Miller Bausch, but she admits that for someone with just two years of skeleton under his belt, Frimpong will be at a disadvantage at the Winter Games this year.

"Akwasi has the athleticism for a competitive push start and the potential to slide more competitively when he gains more experience," Bausch told KweséESPN.

"Most athletes who will compete at the Games have slid six to 10-plus years while Akwasi is just in his second season. Success in this sport comes down to subtleties, which can take years to develop.

"He showed steady progress [in 2017] and the upcoming seasons I expect to see him show continual improvements."

Bausch is looking for all the silver linings as they prepare for PyeongChang, despite his late start to the sport and disjointed preparations this time round.

She adds: "He did not slide in either of the two training week opportunities on the new Olympic track. He will be rushed through the process -- first to get down the track and then progress to fine tuning.

"Nevertheless, we are determined to use the 10 training runs offered to learn the track and end on his best performance during the competition.

"I know that he is committed to another Quad (4 years) at which point he will be hungry to compete and display the progress he can make in pursuit of the 2022 Olympics."

The 31-year-old agrees that he has a lot to learn about what is effectively an alien sport, given the distinct shortage of snow in Ghana. Being an African pioneer of a sport he did not grow up with is very challenging.

He says: "Not only does it hurt physically, but also mentally when things go wrong. The perspectives of others around me for being a black skeleton athlete from Africa has also been challenging and I hope to change that by becoming a better slider with one slide at a time.

"It takes time and I am willing to learn and get better."

A motivational speaker off the track, Frimpong hopes his journey to the Winter Olympics will send a powerful message to many youngsters in Ghana, where he is trying to popularize the skeleton event.

"I know football is hugely popular in Ghana but not everyone can be an Abedi Pele or Tony Yeboah so it is important that people have choices and I hope my story pushes that home," he says.

Yet his path, from Ghana to Holland to the US at Utah Valley University, has been a complicated one, and one that many who grow up in the hot, temperate environment of Ghana would rarely consider.

He adds: "I have had to make a lot of sacrifices. For example, leaving my wife and 8-month-old baby Ashanti at home while being gone for months at a time to train and compete across the globe."

The ultimate reward for the sacrifice, Frimpong hopes, will come in 2022 where he says he wants to win Africa's first Winter Olympic medal. This assumes the Nigeria Bobsled team doesn't get there first.

But in South Korea, where he will become only the second Ghanaian to appear at the Winter Games after 'Snow Leopard' Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, his target is to simply gain experience and exposure.

He has received support from the Ghana Olympic Committee and Cocoa From Ghana for his participation. And while there has been considerable media coverage about him, winter sports just don't generate many headlines in Ghana.

"My goal is to get the Ghana sport authorities behind our federation to support the development of winter sport in Ghana and prepare athletes towards the 2022 Beijing Winter Games and beyond," he explains.

"I have been paying out of my personal pocket for bobsleigh and skeleton clinics every three months in Ghana. Our local Bobsleigh & Skeleton federation - Ghana ( BSF- Ghana) board members have hosted clinics in the eastern region, western region and Ashanti region.

"There is a lot of talent in Ghana and we need to utilize that in the winter sport."

Bausch shares that hope too: "I think it is excellent for others to know Akwasi's background and share in this experience with him. He is dedicated to his pursuit and I respect his ability to use recent attention for good causes.

"He has put a lot of hard work in and is very deserving of competing on an international level. I hope that his participation in these Olympics and upcoming seasons will continue to inspire others."