Simidele Adeagbo — an Olympic skeleton racer and Maurice R. Greenberg world fellow — wants to elevate the African narrative through sport.

Adeagbo, both a Nigerian and U.S. citizen, is primarily known as both the first African and the first black woman to compete in Olympic skeleton — a winter sliding sport where a person sleds headfirst down a frozen track.

On Wednesday, she spoke at a College Tea hosted by Grace Hopper Residential College about her road to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, the sport of skeleton and the motivational work that she is now involved with across Africa. While Adeagbo was a competitive track and field athlete, she had never sled until around five months before the Olympics. She competed in 2018 after being introduced to the sport only 100 days prior.

“The first time I touched a skeleton sled was in September, my first race was in November and by February, I was in Pyeongchang racing” she said.

Adeagbo’s sporting journey began in her childhood. She previously competed in the long jump and triple jump, but narrowly missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in 2008. She then became interested in skeleton through reading about the Nigerian women’s bobsled team on Instagram. Through her interest in the team, she discovered skeleton and decided to pursue it with the Nigerian team. She said that the similarity between the run-ups in long jump and skeleton allowed her to pick the sport up in such a short time. Hopper Head of College Julia Adams called Adeagbo’s journey an “amazingly compressed time.”

Part of her motivation for taking on the sport was to “raise the profile of Africa,” Adeagbo said, and part of her motivation to represent both Nigeria and the continent as a whole came after she moved from the United States to South Africa. She explained that her relocation gave her a new perspective on the continent and allowed her to appreciate its vibrancy and retell its narrative through sport.

“I believe in the continent of Africa and wanting people to see that hope, that innovation, that greatness that I see in the continent every single day,” Adeagbo said.

Adeagbo now works with young girls in Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa and Kenya, providing mentorship and leadership coaching. She holds a master class focusing on inspiration, empowerment and leadership and is currently looking for similar organizations at Yale to partner with and further her work with young African girls.

Adeagbo is now training for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and hopes that, now she has more time, she will be able to improve her technique and become a medal contender.

Matthew Weisenberg ’22, who attended the talk and serves as a Greenberg World Fellow liaison, told the News that he appreciated how approachable and kind Adeagbo is.

Skeleton racing became an Olympic sport in 2002.

 

Waruguru Kibuga | waruguru.kibuga@yale.edu