On February 29th, 2020, Akwasi Frimpong became the first Skeleton athlete from Africa to win an elite Skeleton race sanctioned by the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation in Park City, Utah. From a one room hut in Ghana to the Netherlands at age eight, where he became a professional track athlete before suffering a career-ending Achilles’ injury, the remarkable story of his lifelong dream is now being told in a short film depicting unwavering persistence and desire that holds up a torch of hope and inspiration for an entire continent, as Akwasi campaigns to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing this February.
In association with Hungry Man productions, the Swiss sportswear company, On, presents “Black Ice”, an original short film written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Richard Bullock. The film uniquely combines live-action footage, graphic design, and animation. Depicting Akwasi’s humble origins, growth, and arduous journey which forges his resilient spirit and ultimately transforms him into a symbol of modern Africa, Black Ice can now be seen HERE.
Developed over six months and with filmed excerpts on-location across Europe and Africa, Black Ice brings the pages of a graphic comic book to life through the eyes of the children it aims to inspire. An athletes’ strength and determination in the face of lifelong adversity is unraveled within a portrayal of Akwasi’s journey, presented as a chronology of his life up until the present day that presents a symbol of bravery and courage for the entire African population.
The film centers around a graphic novel that is initially pulled from the bag of a schoolboy with Black Ice as the title, showing an iron clad superhero on the cover depicted as Akwasi. His inquisitive sister reads along with him, and their voices become the narration for the story. They read from the graphic novel aloud and together they follow Akwas’ real-life journey as viewers are taken on a visual expedition.
“Black Ice comprises of a highly original storytelling technique that is the sum of its live action and drawn elements that is rarely seen in a filmed production of this nature,” says Feliciano Robayna, Executive Producer and Head of Sports Marketing at On. “For a long time Akwasi’s dream was simply to make it to the Olympics. Despite all the setbacks, he soon saw the power of his achievements and what they could mean for Africa. He was no longer competing only for himself or a country, but for an entire continent. At the forthcoming Winter Olympics, a billion people can see in him the proof that with self-belief, strength and dedication you can pursue and fulfil your lifelong dreams.”
After speaking with Akwasi, director Richard Bullock decided to approach the story in a completely different way. “Instead of a script or storyboard I wrote out his story in the form of a graphic novel. I handed that to my illustrator who was tasked to bring it to life as a printed graphic novel,” said Bullock. “The book itself has become a character in the film and it forced the filmmakers to think differently about all aspects of the production. “It’s uncomfortable and new for all of us,” was the response. Probably what Akwasi felt like the first time he slid headfirst down an ice run at 90 miles an hour.”
While Akwasi’s life feels like the original story of a fictional superhero, it is all fact. As a child, his grandmother whispered into his ear at bedtime: “What you need for success is already in you. It is a matter of believing in yourself, having the will to work hard and never giving up.”
After moving to Holland to join his mother at 8 years-old, the former Olympian, Sammy Monsels, watches over Akwasi and ignites the Olympic flame of desire within him. Akwasi reacts by making the Olympics his one true ambition as a rapidly growing track athlete. At age 16, Akwasi becomes the Dutch National 200m champion, despite being unable to travel to European competitions due to his citizenship status. Akwasi is accepted into the Johan Cruyff School and works tirelessly to become International Student of the Year. While training for the 2012 London Olympics, Akwasi ruptures his Achilles tendon, putting his Olympic ambitions in danger. While recovering, Akwasi considers his options, applies to American colleges and is accepted into Utah Valley University, where he would graduate with honors in Business Studies.
With Utah being such a cold mountainous climate that was ideal for Winter sports, and after meeting the Dutch national team, Akwasi was invited to try his hand as a brakeman on the Bobsleigh team. Akwasi surprisingly came within one place of making it to the Sochi Winter Games in 2014, which re-ignited his desire to become an Olympian. Akwasi decided to turn to a different sport and took part in a Skeleton trial which he exceled at. In pursuit of his Olympic goal, he focused on his new skill and defied all expectations by qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Akwasi became the first black male Skeleton athlete in Olympic history. He decided to become the hunter instead of the hunted and this self-determination allowed him to be the first African athlete to win an elite Skeleton race sanctioned by the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. Akwasi realized a new Olympic dream and would soon become an even stronger, more dangerous competitor with his sights set on the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. He also wanted to dream for the people of his continent.
In 2008, Akwasi chose a helmet with a lion holding a rabbit in its mouth. The image, he said, represented the story of his life: the rabbit running from the lion that threatened his survival and success. It became a design inspired from his past. However, in stark contrast, his new suit and helmet put him in the role of the hunter and no longer the prey. And rather than wrapped in his African heritage, it was a helmet designed with eyes firmly fixed on the future. His new suit is now inspired by Afrofuturist themes of modernity, technology and innovation. Spray painted on the front of his helmet, laser focused eyes look ahead, while on the back of his helmet is his own personal mission, “Hope of a Billion.” Through his actions, Akwasi Frimpong wants to inspire all Africans.
Akwasi became the first male African skeleton racer to compete at the Olympics in 2018 thanks to the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation‘s (IBSF) continental quota system. The system was dropped by the IOC for next month’s Beijing Olympics, dampening the hopes of any African athletes competing. Frimpong tested positive for Covid-19 on December 29, while preparing for his last three Olympic qualification races in Altenberg, Germany. This gave his qualification for the Olympic Games a crushing blow, despite being ranked only three places below the top 60 needed for qualification. Since then, Akwasi and his team have been campaigning with the IOC to allow Akwasi his chance to compete in Beijing, representing his nation of Ghana as the only African nation represented in the Skeleton. This request to the IOC was recently denied, sparking an outcry of public support for his plight.
To help him perform his best at upcoming competitions, Akwasi will be wearing On’s exclusive shoe designed specifically for professional bobsleigh and skeleton athletes.