Nigeria will be represented at the Olympic Winter Games for the second time in a row following the qualification of Samuel Ikpefan for the skiing event at the 2022 Beijing Winter games coming up later in the year.
This means that for the first time in history, Nigeria will field a cross-country skier at the forthcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Ikpefan who is a cross-country skier spoke to Olympics.com about making history for his home country and his goal of helping young Nigerians to discover skiing.
Just like he did at the World Cup and World Championships last winter, Ikpefan will be the first skier to wear Nigeria’s green suit at the Olympic Winter Games.
“I am so proud to represent Nigeria”, he told Olympics.com.
The native of Annemasse in the French Alps had to wait until 2018 to start out on this journey, when he obtained a Nigerian passport and with it the right to represent the country of his father. It helped the French youth sprint champion build a stronger connection with a culture that has always been a big part of his life in France.
“With the food or the music, I have always been immersed in the Nigerian culture,” he explained.
The choice to represent Nigeria also allowed him to relaunch his career as a cross-country skier. Having progressed through the French system, the skier from Pays Rochois initially decided to put his career on hold when the doors to the French team closed in front of him in 2011. However, upon returning to skiing five years later, Ikpefan realised that his dual nationality allowed him to compete for Nigeria.
At Beijing 2022, he will become the first-ever Nigerian skier to participate at an Olympic Winter Games. As part of his preparations for the Games, Ikpefan will compete in an FIS race in Bessans on 10 December. But the native of Annemasse in France has already written himself into the history books by representing the most populous country in Africa at the World Cross Country Ski Championships and World Cup.
Ikpefan has had a unique journey and one that has captured the attention of some of the most famous cross-country skiers. Now, with his ultimate goal in sight, the 29-year-old hopes to inspire young Nigerians to take up skiing, reports Olympics.com.
In January 2021, he participated in the first World Cup of his career in Falun, Sweden. There, he competed alongside the greatest cross-country skiers in the world, including Alexander Bolshunov, winner of four Olympic medals at PyeongChang 2018, who took time out to ask him how everything had gone after the race.
Weeks later, Ikpefan was one of two Africans competing at the cross-country world championships. It was a great honour for him and justification for the fact that, despite difficulties and sacrifices, he never gave up.
“I am proud to have the chance to represent an African nation at the Olympic Games,” said Ikpefan, who grew up in a family of athletes that includes a rugby playing brother, Daniel.
Ikpefan now hopes that his journey can inspire a new generation, as he works hard to help others follow his path to Milano Cortina 2026.
“For Milano Cortina 2026, I was appointed captain of a team composed of three young skiers that are from Nigeria but live in other countries. [My role was] to explain to them the process and to help them on their Olympic journey.”
At the same time, he hopes to capitalise on the excitement surrounding his participation at the Olympic Winter Games in order to popularise roller skiing in Nigeria.
“As there is no snow there, I want to make this sport known, especially among those who practice rollerblading. And why not send a delegation to the World Summer Roller Ski Championships and participate in international competitions?”
With 250 million inhabitants, a young population, and trailblazers like Ikpefan showing them the way, Nigeria have a strong foundation that will hopefully enable them to participate at the Olympic Winter Games for many editions to come.
(With reports from Olympics.com)