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If the Jamaicans can bobsled, the Ghanaians can ski

I was driving home from the Albany train station last night at 2am, feeling grateful that our local NPR station becomes (for all practical purposes) the BBC from 1am – 5am, when I heard a great story about Ghana’s olympic ski team. That ski team, at the moment, is skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong and David Jacobs, his Scottish coach (and president of the Ghana Olympic Skiing Federation).

Before you make the predictable Cool Runnings Jamaican bobsled joke, you should know that NkrumahAcheampong (could there be name more laden with Ghanaian history than that?) is a huge fan of the movie and finds it inspiring. You should also know that he was born in Glascow and has spent the last few years as the assistant manager of the Xscape Snowzone in Milton Keyes, one of the rare UK ski venues to feature real snow (though the mountain is artificial and indoors). And, according to stories in the Guardian and the Telegraph, our man can ski.

So despite the fact that the UK media has taken to calling him “the Snow Leopard” and the BBC story led off with the reminder that Ghana is hot, dusty and flat (except for the places where it’s hilly, green and cool, I guess), we’re not talking about a guy who’s never seen snow, but about an expat Ghanaian who’s going to face the challenges any Briton would have competing at an international level.

This, to me, is what’s really interesting about the story. There are dozens of nations like Ghana that have large, wealthy and politically influential diasporas. It’s a mistake to think of these countries as existing solely geographically. There’s a virtual Ghana that includes huge populations in the US, UK, Netherlands and Germany. This virtual Ghana includes not only brilliant footballers and boxers, but skiers as well. And god bless them if they’re good enough to make it to Turin.

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong won’t be the first African on skis at the Olympics. Kenya’s Philip Boit skied the 10km in Nagano, and he and Cameroon’s Isaac Menyoli competed in Salt Lake City in 2002, beating a number of skiers. (Okay, one of the guys they beat was Thai, but one was Irish, and might well have seen snow before…) Anyone know if Boit was the first African to compete in an Olympic skiing event, or if some globetrotting South Africans beat him to it?

My fingers are crossed for Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong… and for any athletes helping challenge our understanding of what nationality means in a globalized world.