Eritreans worldwide are proud of Shannon Ogbani-Abeda who became Eritrea’s first winter Olympian
Proud of Eritrea’s flag-bearer and first Winter Olympian Shannon Ogbani-Abeda
By Bereket Kidane
The State of Eritrea will send its first representative, Shannon Ogbani-Abeda, to the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang as well as its first-ever competitor in alpine skiing.
There is a pride as an Eritrean in representing Eritrea, especially as a diaspora Eritrean, which probably can’t be felt by athletes of any other nationality. After all, how many other countries in this world are a gift of their martyrs? I’m sure Shannon Ogbani-Abeda, who races with the Eritrean colors on his helmet, ski jackets and pants, deeply feels that.
Eritrean athletes are ambassadors of the country in special ways. I have no doubt there were many cycling fans around the world who took out their phones and Googled Eritrea to see where it was located when Daniel Teklehaymanot got up on stage to don the polka dot jersey given for the King of the Mountains at the Tour de France or when Ghirmay Gebreselassie won the New York City Marathon in Manhattan broadcast around the world. Now Shannon Ogbani-Abeda is introducing Eritrea to a different Olympic sports audience.
Eritrea earned its first Olympic medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens when it swept into the global elites with Zerisenay Tadesse’s bronze in the men’s 10,000 meters.
Shannon Ogbani-Abeda grew up in Calgary, Canada but his personal connection to Eritrea was cemented through his parents (Ariam and Welday) and the Eritrean-Canadian Community of Alberta that he is fond of. Shannon’s mission is not done yet though. Representing Eritrea at the Winter Olympics and putting Eritrea on the map is not his only goal. His next goal is to “put more Eritreans on skis” as he put it and introduce winter sports to diaspora Eritreans living in cold climates in Canada and the United States.
The State of Eritrea has never sent athletes to compete in the Winter Games until this year. At 21 years old Shannon Ogbani-Abeda is young and will no doubt be back again in the 2022 Winter Olympics. But I have a feeling he will be joined by more Eritrean athletes by then competing in different winter sports.
The dream of every athlete is to win a medal and I am sure Shannon would love to do that but he actually doesn’t need to. As Eritreans, we have so much more to be proud of. We are the land of Yikealo and Warsay. We are a country full of heroes. We get thrilled just by the sight of the Eritrean flag waving and hearing our national anthem because it arouses all kinds of emotions in us.
The Olympics always captivate an international audience with their size, scope and spirit. Winning a medal can be fun and exciting but leaving a legacy is a greater accomplishment. If Shannon Ogbani-Abeda can inspire Eritrean-Canadians and Eritrean-Americans growing up in the Northeast or Rocky Mountain states to pick-up winter sports and set a goal of perfecting their skills and someday representing Eritrea in international competitions it will be a true legacy that he can leave behind and one that will outlast his participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
Congratulations, Shannon, for qualifying to compete in both the slalom and giant slalom classes of alpine skiing. Alpine skiing provides the highest-octane entertainment and is generally one of the most highly anticipated and watched events of the Winter Olympics. We are proud of you Shannon and stay safe on the slopes. We sure are excited to watch you representing Eritrea on the Olympic stage.