PYEONGCHANG, February 18, 2018 - A fist pump and a big smile with cheers from the crowd to go with it, one would think Nigeria’s Simidele Adeagbo had just clinched gold in the women’s skeleton event of PyeongChang 2018 at the Olympic Sliding Centre on Saturday.
But the 36-year-old, who actually finished last in her first ever Olympics, considers her participation as victory in itself and she recorded a personal best as a testament to her growth in the sport.
“I want to freeze and pause this moment, I feel so good. I felt so happy to be out there. I really just had fun today and that’s what this is all about. I gave it my all, I left everything out there on the track and I feel great about my performance. I had a personal best,” a visibly ecstatic Adeagbo said after her fourth and final race.
“I might have come in last but I think that I have made such a big step for the sport, for my country Nigeria, for Africa, for the global sport movement that I’m just beaming. I just have joy. I’m overflowing. My heart is full.”
The highlight of Saturday’s race for Adeagbo was finishing with a time of 53.73 in her third heat, the best time she has recorded in her short time as a skeleton athlete.
It was Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold who came from 0.02 seconds down to defend her title after a fantastic fourth and final run. The 29-year-old became the first skeleton athlete to win back-to-back golds and the first Briton to retain a Winter Games title.
Jacqueline Loelling of Germany won silver, 0.45 seconds behind Yarnold – whose combined time was 3 minutes 27.28 seconds - and 0.62 seconds above Laura Deas who gave Great Britain its second medal in the event by claiming bronze.
It was scary
Unlike playground slides on which kids have fun, sliding sports are frightening. Skeleton being one of those, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted and the need for speed cannot be overemphasized.
Competitors are required to slide down a curvy icy track at 70 to 80mph on a flat sled while lying on their stomach with their helmet-protected heads just barely an inch above the track beneath them. The sled has no brakes or steering mechanism, so the riders use parts of their body to steer the sled and avoid crashes but they hardly ever avoid hits and bruises.
“I was scared at first too. That’s part of this whole process and that’s what has taught me so much about life through it. You have to push past those fears because if I didn’t push past those fears I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Adeagbo explained. “It was scary the first few times I went down. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to do it. I’m still learning how to do it but I pushed, I saw the bigger picture and that’s what I focused on.
“I hope that there are other Nigerians right now that have seen what I’m doing, see this experience and say ‘I want to be a part of this’ just like I was inspired by our bobsled team and that’s what got me going on this journey.”
Skeleton is said to have originated from St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1884 and was first featured at the Olympics in 1928 it was then fully integrated at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 with the introduction of the women’s event.
The competition involves six official training heats and four main race heats. It is just the main race that counts in the end as the times recorded in all the heats are accumulated to determine the winner.
Now that Simidele Adeagbo has written this Olympic chapter of her life, her job as a Marketing Manager at Nike in Johannesburg, South Africa awaits her return. “But Simi has to really think about what’s next,” she said.
“I have seen my potential in the sport and that really has excited me. One thing that I know and I know and I know is that I was created to be an athlete.” She also wants to play a role in the development of winter sports in Nigeria as she does not want to be the first and last skeleton athlete from the country.