The Snow Leopard, Ghanas first Winter Games hopeful, readying for Olympic run

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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COURTENAY, B.C. - He hails from sub-Saharan Africa, where it does not snow and temperatures average about 34C this time of year.
But Kwame Nkrumah Acheampong, dubbed the Snow Leopard, will be the first athlete to hoist the Ghanaian flag in a Winter Olympics when he hits the alpine courses in Whistler this month.
Acheampong was training Tuesday on Mount Washington, on Vancouver Island, for the slalom and giant slalom events.
Skiing may not be a traditional sport in the tropical nation of Ghana, but Acheampong quickly points out that he qualified to be in the elite field in the medal events at the Games.
"When I go to FIS (International Ski Federation) races, I'm competing like anyone else," he said Tuesday, stopping halfway down the Whiskey Jack run to speak with reporters.
"I'm just like any other skier."
He admits it would be a miracle if he won a medal on either of his scheduled race days, Feb. 21 and 27, but he's not planning on finishing last either.
"The idea is to ski well," Acheampong said. "It's just a matter of can you put together two good runs on the day without any errors."
With only six years of competitive skiing behind him, Acheampong said success will translate itself if he can motivate some other African athlete to take up skiing and ultimately win an Olympic medal.
His Uzbek coach, Denis Grigorev, said he has been working with the Snow Leopard since last year when the pair met in Iran and decided to work together.
Grigorev said Acheampong, 35, is a gifted athlete who skis amazingly well for his age and his relatively few years of training.
"I think we're ready, ready for the Games," said Grigorev. "Of course, we're not going to win a medal, but he's ready."
Acheampong arrived almost penniless, for some pre-Olympic training on Mount Washington, but the skier has been quickly adopted by the locals.
Skiers were stopping on the mountain Tuesday to greet the skier, who stands out in his black and white, leopard-print ski suit. People greet him as if he was a long-lost uncle and many asked to have their photos taken with the Snow Leopard.
He has a few sponsors but he's footed almost all his Olympic costs himself, so he said he's honoured by the support of the local community, near Courtenay, B.C.
"It's very warm, here," referring to the reception he's received.
Thanks to local supporters, Acheampong now arrives at the mountain in a brand new car, covered in leopard spots with a sign on the side saying "live leopard on board."

Organizations: Ski Federation

Geographic location: COURTENAY, Mount Washington, Sub-Saharan Africa Whistler Vancouver Island Whiskey Jack Iran

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