Sports
Photo by Candice Ward.

Meet Simidele Adeagbo—Nigeria's First Female Skeleton Athlete

She's one race away from qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Nigeria's Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is already overflowing with black girl magic, but it just got some more. Former track star Simidele Adeagbo is vying to represent the green-white-green and the continent at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. To do so she must snag her fifth qualifying race this week in Lake Placid, New York.


Skeleton is a single rider sport, where an athlete rides a skeleton sled down a frozen track at high speeds while lying face down —whoa! Just like Nigeria's bobsled team, this is the 36-year-old's first go at the sport, but she's determined to use this experience to inspire young Africans to excel at whatever they do.

We caught up with Adeagbo before the holidays and learned how she got involved with skeleton, how she fits training into a busy professional life and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Antoinette Isama for OkayAfrica: Can you touch on your background a bit?

Simidele Adeagbo: I lived in Nigeria until I was about 6-years-old and then grew up between the U.S. and Canada. Now, I currently live in Johannesburg, South Africa, and have been there for the last 4 1/2 years.

Growing up I've always been an athlete, loved sports—been passionate about sports. I played a lot of different sports, but I settled in track and field. That's where I really excelled. At the University of Kentucky, I did track and field and was named a four-time All-American—pursuing it after college as well. I just nearly missed making the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team in the event of triple jump back in 2008. After that, I kind of just moved on with life, moved to South Africa, and was kind of in a different space in life.

How did you get involved with skeleton?

I got to know about the bobsled team around the end of 2016. I think it was actually the OkayAfrica article that I saw online and was really inspired by it. I thought what the ladies were doing was a really awesome thing—in terms of being the ones to blaze this trail in a winter sport that has never been done before for Nigeria and also for the continent. I immediately wanted to be a part of it, so I reached out and kept in touch with them.

In August of this year, there was a tryout in Houston, Texas, so I made the long trip there for the weekend and tried out. I was invited back to a camp that was in September. I went to camp and got to know skeleton, which was not the original plan because I knew more about bobsled, and there's been a history of track and field athletes that make the transition from track and field to bobsled. That's where I got to know about skeleton and I thought that sport was also equally interesting to me because I could still use my talents to serve my country. I've been learning the sport ever since and now I'm just one race away.


Photo by Candice Ward.

How has your learning process been leading up to your last qualifying race? Have you experienced any challenges, especially since you're new to the sport?

The sport is something that I'm still learning every day. I think even when you become an "expert," you're always going to be learning. If you get to a stage where you're not learning, then you should probably move on.

For me being new to the sport, the learning curve has been really steep, and I've tried to just take it one day at a time. I have some coaches who have been helping me, and each day I try to see how I can improve and get better and better. I've done a lot in a short period of time already doing four races, and I've been at three different tracks. I'm challenging myself to really see what I can do, see what's possible, and to qualify.

How has your community of family members and friends reacted to this transition into skeleton?

They have overall really been supportive. I have a great community of friends and family that support me, and are behind me 100 percent, and are encouraging me and cheering me on.

I think the initial reaction is first of all, "What the heck is skeleton?" You know? A lot of people are not familiar with the sport. Some of them are a bit concerned because people think that it looks really scary. And then, I just let them know, "Hey, no. It actually can be fun."

Photo by Candice Ward.

I also read that you currently work at Nike in Joburg. How have you been able to balance training and keeping up with your professional career?

It's definitely not easy, but Nike is a company that supports athletes. I just happen to be an athlete that works in an office. They've been really supportive of this quest from the very beginning, and I just work with the team to see how we can all manage it together.

It's also all about time management. For me, I need both to be really myself. I need the challenge physically to make sure I'm pushing my athletic side. And then, intellectually I love being in the office and be able to do a lot of the great things that we do as a brand, but they're all interconnected. Nike is a brand, like I said, that really is all about serving the athlete. Every day when I go to work is about how we can inspire people to do their best whatever that is for them as an athlete, so the two are very linked and go hand-in-hand.

In the wake of 17-year-old Ghanaian-born Maame Biney qualifying for the USA Olympic speedskating team, I think it's cool that we're seeing more African women lead the way in representing our communities in unconventional spaces. If you had to give advice to young African girls who have become interested in winter sports, what are some things that you would advise them to consider?

I came across it online as well and I thought that that was really, really cool. Living on the continent, there's so many challenges that face young people today, young females especially, so the fact that they can see these female athletes who are just doing it unapologetically and leaving a legacy is great because for me, part of this is really about how we redefine Africa, and what people think about Africa, and what's possible. We show up in a way that shows people just who we are. We can really do anything.

I think that's the encouragement that I would share with any young person is that you define who you want to be, and you create the future. The questions that I would ask them to ask themselves are, "Why not you?" And, "Why not now?" Those are the same questions I asked myself at the beginning of this—"Somebody has to make history, why not me? And, why not now?"

Why not use all of the gifts that I have to inspire people, so I'm not the first and last? Hopefully, the idea is that this opens doors for future generations of African athletes. Don't limit yourself, the possibilities are really limitless. Create your lane however you want to do it. It's really up to you.

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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