Canadian-born alpine skier Shannon-Ogbani Abeda will defend the colors of Eritrea, the birth country of his parents, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The 21-year-old skier will become the first athlete to represent Eritrea at the Winter Olympics.
Born and raised in Alberta by immigrant parents, Abeda, a computer science student who has spent most of his life barreling down the Rocky Mountain slopes, made the decision to represent Eritrea in 2011.
“I have grown up here with a lot of friends who are Canadian but I also have that connection inside to who I am as an Eritrean,” the skier told CBC Sports. “I’ve been very humbled by the response and support I’ve received, especially from the Eritrean-Canadian community. They look up to me and I never imaged myself being in that position.”
Shannon-Ogbani Abeda is a Canadian-born skier, but will be flying the flag for Eritrea at next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He explains how his parents encouraged him in the sport... pic.twitter.com/TdOKpYby2H— BBC World Service (@bbcworldservice) 31 January 2018
Abeda’s parents fled the Eritrea Independence War in the early 1980s and came to Canada as refugees. The War, which lasted 29 years, was a conflict fought between the Ethiopian government and Eritrean separatists that started when Eritrea’s autonomy within Ethiopia was unilaterally revoked in the early 1950s.
Eritrea gained independence in 1991 and made their Olympic debut nine years later. In the 2004 Games in Athens, long-distance runner Zersenay Tadese captured bronze in the men’s 10,000 metres, to gain Eritrea’s sole Olympic medal.
"Eritreans have gone through 30 years of war where a lot of people lost their lives," said Shannon-Ogbani’s father Walady Abeda. "Now with Eritrea being its own country, our children and our grandchildren can represent it. That's good for Eritrea and also for other first- and second-generation immigrants who might be encouraged to get involved in winter sports. We're looking forward to Shannon inspiring kids from other nations that don't have snow to dream that they can represent their country of birth or their parents' country and we're excited about that.'
Alpine quota rule
The alpine skier, who has only visited the northeast African country twice, qualified for the Winter Olympics after scoring results of 26th, 42nd and one non-finish in his last three races ranked by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
He earned his spot thanks to the so-called basic alpine quota rule, which states that all National Olympic Committees have the right to register one male and one female competitor if they obtain the minimum ranking to meet the Olympic standard
Abeda, who has already represented Eritrea at the Winter Youth Olympics in 2012 in Innsbruck, Austria, will join Nigerian bobsled team and Ghanaian skeleton athlete Akwasi Frimpong as the African representatives for this year’s Winter Olympics.