Forget Eric the Eel... meet the Snow Leopard

Ghana's first professional skier is heading to the Winter Olympics – via Milton Keynes

He bills himself as the "Snow Leopard" – even though he saw snow for the first time just five years ago. Meet Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, Ghana's first professional skier who has defied extraordinary odds to qualify for the Vancouver Games in February.

As Africa's most unlikely Olympic hero since "Eric the Eel", Nkrumah-Acheampong, 34, will be his country's sole representative at the Winter Olympics. And to make his challenge even greater he has not been training on glistening slopes but at an indoor ski centre in Hemel Hempstead.

And it is hardly perfect preparation. "I'd go down again, but this is pretty rubbish," grumbles one snowboarder, after clearing the 160-metre slope in seconds. "How can anyone be expected to train here? It's like learning to swim in a bathtub."

Such talk does not deflate Nkrumah-Acheampong. "Of course it's not ideal," he concedes. "But it's better than nothing. You can practise technical stuff here. And if you multiply this slope by 10 – or ski down it 10 times over – you'll cover similar distances."

Born in Glasgow, where his father was completing a doctorate, Nkrumah-Acheampong was raised in a small town an hour from the capital Accra, where temperatures rarely drop below 2C, and most children dream of becoming stars on foreign football fields or boxing rings.

The race towards Olympic qualification began in 2002, when the Ghanaian returned to England, landing a job as a receptionist at Milton Keynes Xscape indoor snow dome. It was there, during the centre's off-peak hours, he discovered the "God-given" talent for hurtling down its artificial slope. After qualifying as an instructor and successfully attempting the slalom, Nkrumah-Acheampong won a few races, got promoted to assistant manager and gradually began to dream of Olympic glory.

"I've always been athletic but I tend to lose interest as I reach the top," he says. "Skiing is the one sport that I feel I have never mastered. Perhaps that's what made me so driven to succeed at it."

To qualify for the Winter Olympics, skiers need to get their personal rating down to between 120 and 140 World Ski Federation points. Nkrumah-Acheampong, who started at 1,000, has steadily brought his tally down, finally going below the magical 140-point barrier after skiing in the Italian Alps last winter.

Now with a place at the opening ceremony guaranteed, the countdown to the Games is on. After dropping his two children to school each morning, his current training regime includes a daily jog around Milton Keynes, extensive workouts at LA Fitness and flag-shaking slalom sessions at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead.

"The thought of other athletes out there with their coaches pushing iron every morning is enough to get me out of bed," he says. His routine will step up a gear in December when he winters in the Italian resort of Val di Fiemme for ruthless eight-hour-a-day training sessions until the start of the Olympics.

But how does he rate his chances of success? "I guess the best scenario would be to beat at least 10 people, including big countries that are considered small skiing nations," he says. "Teams like Pakistan and India."

Experts are more sceptical. "Realistically, his chances of success border around one-in-a-million," whispers his publicist, eager to manage expectations. Bookmakers William Hill cites odds of 500/1 for the Snow Leopard to seize any type of medal, though point out that his chances are significantly better than Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, who memorably represented Britain at ski-jumping in 1988.

Regardless of what happens, there is a social element that underpins his exploits. Nkrumah-Acheampong has the backing of several charities, including Sabre, the British charity that is operating in Ghana to build schools in deprived areas. "I want to remove the stigma of sport in Africa, where too often it's considered something that dummies do," he says. "Education can go hand-in-hand with leisure and recreation. It doesn't have to be a choice of one or the other. I want people to see that."

To make that point clearer, he returned to Accra earlier this year and has already secured preliminary government backing for Ghana's first artificial ski slope which he hopes will be built before the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. With a site already earmarked on the Akuapem Hills in the town of Mamfe, the project is designed not just to seal his legacy but to pave the way for Ghana's second-ever Olympic ski racer in years to come.

"At the very least, it will be the first time that snow sets in sub-Saharan Africa," he says. "It'll be cool."

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice