Ghana's Snow Leopard is one ice-cool cat

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By Steve Ginsburg

WHISTLER (Reuters) - As a 35-year-old Olympic Alpine skier from Africa, Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong is accustomed to beating the odds.

Just not the competition.

The soft-spoken Alpine skier from Ghana pulled off his long-shot quest to make the Vancouver Games and gets his shot against the big boys in the slalom at Whistler Creek next Saturday.

The affable West African with big dreams and a ready smile has no illusions at all of stepping on to the podium at the Vancouver Games.

"My goal is to try and beat some other countries who have snow," he told Reuters. "We might not have big budgets, like the Austrian ski team. Most of these guys have skied since they were young. So if I can take down a few, I'm happy."

Nkrumah-Acheampong is an anomaly in the big-money world of Alpine skiing and not just because he comes from a tropical country more than a few slaloms away from the Alps.

Someone in Whistler, site of the Alpine races, loaned him his chalet, and at the last minute, his lone sponsor decided to foot the bill to bring his family to Vancouver.


"People in Canada have been just fantastic, buying us lunch, buying tickets for us. We don't have all of the resources but we just make do with what we have."

Nkrumah-Acheampong has become a celebrity around Vancouver as people have fallen in love with the underdog known as the "Snow Leopard" because of his distinctive racing suit.

He started racing just six years ago after taking up a job as a receptionist at a dry ski slope in Milton Keynes, England, and was his country's flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremonies, because, not too surprisingly, he is Ghana's only Games athlete.

In fact, Ghana had never before participated in the Winter Olympics.

Glasgow-born Nkrumah-Acheampong, who lives in Britain, is motivated by testing himself against nature.

"The only way I can explain it is that when you get on top of a slope, and you have the challenge of the gates and the hill, and you aim to make it through against all of the odds," he said.

"You feel like you've done something. It's a sport, it's fun. To see your skis sing on the slope, and you make it down it's beautiful."

Nkrumah-Acheampong, who would like to open a grass ski slope in Ghana and develop a programme there when the Olympics are over, adores the slopes in Whistler Creek.

"The training slope we have at the moment is fantastic," he said. "It's been nice and icy. For me it's like a novelty experience to ski on ice. So it's really cool.

"The skis make a different sound. You can keep on the line. There are no massive ruts. This is like paradise."

(Editing by Jon Bramley)