Rejected by France but welcomed with open arms by Nigeria, all eyes are will be on Samuel Ikpefan as the 2022 Winter Olympics officially got underway on Friday in Beijing, China.
For Ikpefan, growing up with his brother, Daniel, helped in honing his skills in sports from an early age. No other sport, apart from Rugby, mattered to him when he started out.
Determined to satisfy his hunger pangs of becoming a trailblazer in life, Ikpefan badly wanted to do what no other person in his family had done before.
This native of Annemasse in the French Alps grew up making snowballs, it was then that Ikpefan as a six-year-old realised his life will be shaped by this ‘white diamond’.
Today, February 3, 2022, he will enter into the history books as the first Nigerian man to debut as the Winter Olympics cross-country skier in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China.
Of course, nobody told him the road to stardom will be easy when he decided to try his luck in skiing.
Representing Nigeria was never an option, and off he went to the French skiing federation hoping to grab a place.
Sadly, he was not good enough at first, and subsequently, his career looked to be petering out.
Ikpefan’s bumpy road to stardom
The year 2011 was a bad year for Samuel Ikpefan, as the rejection he suffered despite coming from the French system was a huge blow on his career and it took three years for him to recover from it.
Rather than forge ahead with his vision, he took a break from the sports and returned in 2016.
But it was not until 2018 that Ikpefan began a new journey to stardom after he obtained a Nigerian passport through the help of his dad after it dawned on him that he could represent Nigeria on the ground of his dual citizenship.
That was the biggest decision of his life.
After making contact with the Nigeria Skiing federation, he was invited to Abuja to be part of the roller skiing demonstration challenge organised by the federation’s Vice President who was bent on seeing the French-born skier closely.
Not ready to allow another opportunity to slip through his hand, Ikpefan packed his bags and booked the next available flight to Abuja.
Upon arrival at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, tears welled up in his eyes when he saw the large crowd who had taken a break from football to cheer him on as journalists swarmed around him, desperate to interview him.
To them, his story was worth reporting.
“It was huge, it touched me,” he said. “I saw my father again for the first time in a year as he moved there for his retirement. When I walked on Nigerian soil, I started to get emotional. Some tears came to my eyes.” Ikpefan told Olympic.com
Ikpefan then earned the sole right to represent Nigeria after passing the trial. Heads turned in envy at the FIS racing and the Alpine Cup upon seeing a Nigeria green and white suit.
But he never looked back from then, and Nigeria will be represented by Ikpefan at the Beijing Winter Olympics for the second time in a row. This is a sign of great things to come.
“I am proud to have the chance to represent an African nation at the Olympic Games,” said Ikpefan.
France loss, Nigeria’s gain
Nigeria is known for its abundant talents in football, boxing, and athletics, but her status quo changed when the country was represented at the Pyeonchang 2018 Winter Olympics by four female athletes who competed in skeleton and bobsleigh.
The quartet of Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga, Ngozi Onwumere, and Simidele Adeagbo may have missed out on the medals table, but they demonstrated why the world must watch out for Nigeria in subsequent editions.
More importantly, their participation helped increase the followership of winter sports in the country.
Missing out on French selection was a blessing in disguise for a man who is already looking beyond Beijing, and is focused on leading the next generation of skiers to Milano Cortina in 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,” he told Olympics.com.
As Nigerians watch in anticipation of what will happen at the Beijing Winter Games which got underway today on Friday, the future of winter sports is bright and blinding as far as Nigeria is concerned.
Nigeria may not have the snow, but talents abound, and the emergence of Ikpefan as the trailblazer of the sports could be the much-needed tonic that will inspire upcoming generations to embrace the sports.
Now, because of his participation, Nigeria, a country without snow, will have the opportunity to win a medal at Beijing 2022.
“Nothing is impossible,” Ikpefan added.
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