Olympic dreams are made in next-to-last and last place, too

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Had Jamaican Anthony Watson and Ghanaian Akwasi Frimpong backed out of their Olympic dreams, Watson would be on Broadway playing a hyena in the "Lion King" and Frimpong would be selling Hoovers in Amsterdam.

But they persevered, pursued this unlikely path to Pyeongchang and, though they finished in the bottom two places of the men's skeleton, pride was overflowing at what they had achieved here at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The crowd took both Frimpong and Watson to their hearts, but the home favorite was Yun Sungbin, who won gold in the men's skeleton, dominating throughout and winning by 1.63 seconds. Russian Nikita Tregubov took silver. Dom Parsons won Great Britain's first medal of the Games with a bronze.

Frimpong and Watson had long finished by the time the medals were handed out, with just the top 20 taking in the final run. But as they soaked up the Olympics atmosphere, they told their stories to the world. Both are close friends having met in Whistler last year, they room together to keep costs down and have been on this journey, the two outliers who were laughed at by others when they started pursuing their dream.


For Watson, his motivation stems back a couple of years. "Today's a really emotional day because it's close to my best friend's birthday," Watson told ESPN. "I always wanted to get to an Olympics to race for him because he passed away two years ago.

"We were college roommates and I was studying music, and he said, 'You know what, dude, you're an excellent musician but you've always been an athlete.' He said I should go for it."

Watson is also motivated by proving doubters wrong. Bullied because of his dyslexia as a youngster, this was as much a message to those who hurt him, as it was to people in similar situations as living proof you can get through it.

Watson's father, Basil, was watching on from the stands, but had fate steered a different path, he could have been on Broadway. Watson was offered the part of a hyena in the "Lion King" musical ("It was a case of Broadway versus the Olympics. ... Maybe I'll have a Tony in four years' time") but he opted for the offseason camp in Jamaica instead.


Then there is Frimpong, a talented sprinter who was born in Ghana but moved to the Netherlands at 8 as an illegal immigrant. He finally gained residency in 2008 but missed out on London 2012 after tearing his Achilles. Not selected to the Dutch bobsleigh team for Sochi 2014, he turned to skeleton with the encouragement of his wife, Erica, and sold vacuums to fund his Olympic dream.

Erica and daughter Ashanti -- "that's the tribe I'm from. It's to show to my little baby girl that she should never be afraid to dream" -- were in the crowd, in the midst of the ever-growing Ghanaian fan club, knowing first-hand the effort and sacrifices Frimpong has made to be here. He has been in hot demand, but he has a three-fold motivation for being here.

"To be an Olympian is a big thing," Frimpong said.

"It's not about winning a medal, it's about three things. The first thing was to break barriers, to show that people from warm countries, black people, can do the sport as well. The second thing was to write history for Ghana; there are 29 million people in my country. ... There are 1.2 billion people I'm representing. And then, it's more than just winning something, it's about your struggles as well.

"I've been able to overcome my struggles, I've been dreaming about this for 15 years. I could've given this up but, with the support of my wife, family and sponsors, I'm here today. I want those people back in my country to dare to dream, and it is summed up in my quote: If failure was the last step then there wouldn't be something called success."

His end-of-run dance has become popular -- it's as much him celebrating still being alive as it is a recognition of his unlikely story.

"Every time I make it down the hill without falling off at a corner or hitting one, I do it," Frimpong said. "It's a way to say thank you to everyone who has helped me here and a little part of being a Ghanaian."

It will be Yun's name in the history books as the hometown hero who took gold, but Frimpong and Watson will be forever part of the men's skeleton tapestry here in Pyeongchang, further proof that the Olympics is not simply just about medals.

"If you get good at being in the background, you'll be ready for the spotlight," Watson said. "I've been working my hardest with my head down and now I'm in the spotlight."