While diving head first on a brakeless sled, high on aerodynamics, 80 miles per hour on PyeongChang's frozen ice track at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Akwasi Frimpong pondered the significance of Chadwick Boseman and his portrayal of the Black Panther. W...
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While diving head first on a brakeless sled, high on aerodynamics, 80 miles per hour on PyeongChang's frozen ice track at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Akwasi Frimpong pondered the significance of Chadwick Boseman and his portrayal of the Black Panther.
"When I was competing, a lot of people said we had a hero of our own. King T'challa is on the ice. They talked about how important representation was, "Frimpong said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.
It was a distinction that Frimpong — only the second-ever Ghanaian Olympic Winter and the first Black African in Skeleton.
Yun Sung-Bin, a South Korean athlete who won the men's skeleton event, competed in an Iron Man-inspired bodysuit. This, Frimpong said, "represented the Westerners." He was going to be different.
The 2018 Winter Games was a milestone for African athletes, who competed for the first time in the Bobsled and Skeleton sports. Frimpong — who grew up as an immigrant in the Netherlands — represented Ghana, and that was evident in his look: a kente-inspired bodysuit in yellow, green , and red that matched his sculpted body.
Winter games coincided with the release of the film Black Panther, which started a lot of conversations about the representation of black and African culture. Frimpong took the film's message and adapted it to the ice.
"I understood the message of the black people and the people of Africa and what they wanted to see. They were really happy that I was wearing a Ghana outfit, obviously, because I was, right? But I knew that after the 2018 Olympic Games, I wasn't just there to represent 20 million people. I wanted to represent 1.2 billion people, and that's where the story of the Billion Hope comes in, "he said.
Black Panther 's success was unanticipated. It broke box-office records, and won big awards. It also marked a huge shift in culture, showing that the predominantly black cast could reach insurmountable heights.
Boseman was at the forefront of this cultural shift. Director Ryan Coogler has revealed how much he has influenced the film, such as demanding that actors be allowed to speak in African accents. And this, in turn, had an impact on other black creators — including Frimpong.
After the Olympics, designer Matt Millette and Jordon Bourgeault, an airbrush artist, were commissioned to create a competition-inspired Black Panther suit.
The suit is sleek, all-black and textured — just like the superhero outfit Boseman wore in the film. The helmet is modeled on the mask of King T'Challa. Like Boseman 's portrait of Black Panther, Frimpong 's image was rich, black and cross-cultural.
Chadwick Boseman died last Saturday, at the age of 43. Frimpong heard the news at his Utah house. Since 2016, he has been fighting colon cancer.
“I was devastated all day, all night. I still am to this day,” said Frimpong. “But at the same time too, he has given me so much strength. He has given me so much more. The fact that he was able to do that for at least four years and for you to continue to give himself to society, to people, that shows what it means to be kind and to have compassion over judgment and, you know, love over hate and light over darkness.”
Frimpong intended to launch a new suit to contend later this year. But he's chosen to pay homage to Boseman by continuing to roll in his Black Panther costume.
Currently rated 75th in the country, Frimpong is only getting stronger. In February, he became the first African to win an international skeleton trophy — despite running with a fractured sled, a damaged glove, and in less than an optimum physical state. He placed his sights on becoming the first African Olympic Winter Medalist in the 2022 Games.