Eritrea’s first Winter Olympian calls Canada home

Click to play video: 'Historic debut for Eritrean athlete with Canadian connection' Historic debut for Eritrean athlete with Canadian connection
Olympics are often about firsts and a young man made has made history in South Korea. Shannon-Obgnai Abeda competed in his first winter games and so did the country he represents. Reid Fiest reports on Abeda's Canadian connection. – Feb 19, 2018

As Shannon-Obgnai Abeda carved his skis around the gates in Sunday’s Men’s Giant Slalom, the 21-year-old made history.

He was the first athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics for the African country of Eritrea.

“It’s been amazing and it didn’t really sink in until I crossed that finish line,” Abeda told Global News.

He finished 61st, but he says it’s a win in itself considering his family’s background.

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Abeda’s parents are from Eritrea, but fled in the 1980s. He was born in Fort McMurray, Alta. and at the age of three reluctantly strapped on a pair of skis at the local ski hill.

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“It wasn’t initially the path I wanted to take. I was really fond of hockey coming from a small town and I think it was a great decision on my parents’ part,” Abeda said.

“Once we moved to Calgary, things got better and I really started to enjoy it.”

His Olympic dream began at the age of ten. In 2012, he started focusing on making it a reality.

He lives in Calgary now, and trains at Panorama Mountain Resort in B.C..

Shannon-Obgnai Abeda of Eritrea carries the national flag with delegates during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium. Rob Schumacher / USA TODAY Sports

Abeda carried Eritrea’s flag at the opening ceremony, and since then received a lot of support from around the world.

“For Eritreans, they’re very happy when they see something positive about Eritrea, considering there was a 30 year war of independence.”

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Abeda is paying for about 80 per cent of his costs, the rest are being covered by the Eritrea government.

He still has a lot of family in the country, and has visited it twice in 2002 and 2014.

He is making plans for a visit this summer to tell them about his Olympic experience.

“I think it would be good for me to connect with the youth there and try to promote sports regardless if it’s a summer or winter sport.”

Yongpyong Alpine Centre – Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 18, 2018 – Shannon-Ogbnai Abeda of Eritrea competes. REUTERS / Leonhard Foeger

For now, he’s looking forward to the closing ceremony where he’ll carry Eritrea’s flag once more.

“I realize, I came out here to do what I set out and I’m officially an Olympian.”


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