We lived 10 minutes from the best soccer club in the Netherlands, Team Ajax, and I had many favourite players. My mom was big about the church and soccer matches were mostly played on Sundays.
So my brother Kofi and I had to sneak out through our little bedroom window. I played soccer for different local clubs in the Netherlands. I stayed with the club FC – Bijlmer the longest until my mom got sick of us missing church on Sunday.
As a young soccer player, coaches started me as centre back player. My role as a centre back was to stay in the back and mark central areas. I was soon asked to play striker and left winger due to my speed. I never got to play for Team Ajax. I sent my papers to them for a talent try-out day when I was about eleven-years-old, but I didn’t get in. The cutoff was ten-years-old.
My older brother Kofi was into soccer and running. He didn’t like running physically but liked to watch it. I didn’t blame him. Running is the punishment of any sport, but especially in soccer if you showed up late to practice. Running 4 laps around the field for being late was not a soccer player’s idea of an enjoyable workout. If Kofi wasn’t playing soccer, he was recording track and field competitions on VHS.
On July 18 2001, I was recruited by two-time summer Olympian, Sammy Monsels while I was attending my former junior high school, Augustinus College in Amsterdam (new name, Bindelmeer College). My coach volunteered and scouted at our annual junior high school track and field day. During the relay event, I was the final runner who won the race for our team with a 40 m gap ahead the rest. I was immediately asked to come out for a tryout. I went home with excitement about being recruited and told my brother Kofi about it. For months I wasn’t interested in joining coach Sammy’s track and field club. My brother sat me down one day after I came home from school and showed me the races he had been recording for years. The races he showed me were Michael Johnson’s 200 and 400m races from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. His build, look, gold necklace, determination, strides, unique running style all got my attention. He was a bad-ass.
I started to watch more of Michael Johnson’s races and other sprinters like Maurice Green. I was blown away human beings could run that fast. My brother who didn’t physically like running believed I could do well. He and others always will joke around that I was too fast for a soccer ball. But it wasn’t enough to convince me at the time.
Weeks later, my friend Joel was bragging about a medal he won during a local track and field event. Since I didn’t have any medal or trophy in my closet, I wanted to be Joel for one day. I wanted to know what it felt like to be a winner. I joined coach Sammy’s club fall of 2001 which wasn’t far from the flat where I lived. My mom was happy because races were not always on a Sundays and I was close enough to the house. 18 months later I was the fastest 17-year-old boy not locally, not regionally, but nationally. I became the Dutch junior champion in Lisse, the Netherlands in 2003 during the youth national championships and winning bronze in the 100m. Thanks to my brother and Joel, I ended up winning more than a dozen medals in track and field nationally for my club as a junior.
I’m forever grateful for my brother recording Michael Johnson’s races and motivating me to give running a chance. It put me on the path to fulfill my dream of becoming an Olympian. Studies have found that siblings can impact each other’s development more than parents. Studies have also found that gender and age differences among siblings do not have a significant impact on the development of close relationships and the benefits of a positive sibling relationship result in positive behavioral outcomes as the children grow up. You can read more about that at https://www.cornerstonesforparents.com/sibling-relationships-impact-child-development.
My brother has always been my greatest supporter in everything I do in life. He never talked me down, always built me up. Of course, when we were growing up in Ghana, he would chase me for bugging him. That might be how I trained to run so fast. I didn’t want to get caught.
I still don’t.
Akwasi Frimpong is a former Dutch -Ghanaian sprinter, 2018 Winter Olympian for Ghana and the first African athlete in history to win a skeleton race. Frimpong is currently training for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games where he hopes to win Africa’s first ever winter Olympic Games medal. This column was written by Akwasi Frimpong for Pulse Ghana. Visit Frimpong’s webpage to follow his Olympic journey.
This article was written by Ghanaian Skeleton athlete Akwasi Frimpong for Pulse Ghana.