The First Eritrean Winter Olympian

By Asmait Futsumbrhan

Shannon-Ogbani, Eritrean- Canadian Ski racer became the first to represent Eritrea at the 2018 South Korea Olympics.

Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, Shannon- Ogbani Abeda, has forever carried his Eritrean identity with pride. He has always been interested in connecting with his Eritrean heritage through his parents. Shannon was introduced to skiing, a type of sport played on ice and, therefore, unthinkable in Eritrea, when he was just three years of age. By 2011, the Eritrean-Canadian athlete decided to be the first at the Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria representing Eritrea. Then came 2018. “I want to go and line up against those people and do my best. My main goal is to put Eritrea on the map,” he said in an interview with an international media out let just before the South Korea Olympics. In 2018, Shannon was able to take part at the 2018 South Korea Winter Olympics, making history for his country and himself as he became the first Eritrean winter Olympian.

The Computer Science and Business student Winter Olympian visited Eritrea on its 28th independence anniversary.

  • A brief introduction

I was born and raised in Canada. I was three years old when I began skiing and started ski racing at five. It was something that my sister picked up as a sport and my parents influenced me to start skiing. It just took off from there. In 2011 I decided to participate for my country and through that opportunity I was able to compete at the Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria in 2012 and also in the 2018 South Korea Winter Olympics. I am currently a Computer Science and Business student in Canada. Also, I plan to take part at the 2020 Olympic Games in Beijing.

  • Becoming the First Eritrean Winter Olympian

I can’t really put words to it. It was an emotional time, for me and particularly my parents. Knowing the history of Eritrea and the adversities it went through to get its independence and becoming the one to carry its flag made it a significant moment in my life.

Besides, the kind of support I got from all Eritreans around the world was overwhelming. It was unexpected. Yesterday I met with the Foreign Minister and he told me that my participation in Korea was symbolic for the nation. That was heartwarming and it made me realize that I play a significant role being a role model for the Eritrean youth.

  • Eritrean Values

My dad was born in Keren. He was very young when he left for Canada and he faced a rough life in Canada, it wasn’t easy for him. He had to start from nothing. Despite his unfortunate times he was able to create the career he has today and he has been successful. My parents have always told me everything I need to know about being an Eritrean. Growing up my dad was very hard on me and expected a lot; he expected that I succeed with the best of my ability, my education and my sport. I didn’t quite understand it when I was young. But when I travelled to Eritrea and saw the life that he had, it reflected in my young stages of adulthood. I understood how much he had to do so that I can have a good life in Canada. I learned that as an Eritrean I had to work very hard for what I want in life.

Growing up in Canada it is easy to lose your identity. I have seen a lot of the diaspora that do not connect to their heritage. Being a Canadian and accepting aspects of my Canadian background and accepting myself as an Eritrean meant a lot to be able to carry that identity. I believe a core value of being an Eritrean means being resilient, hard worker and generous. Through my participation in skiing I have been able to carry the Eritrean values that my parents have installed in me from my young age.

  • Achieving the ‘Put more Eritreans in to skiing’ motto

I believe that I did achieve that during my participation in Korea. I was able to identify several athletes in the diaspora, in Canada and Europe, who are interested in pursuing winter sports. Some of them were already pursuing winter sports but didn’t know that Eritrea had a Winter Sports Federation. I feel proud that I attained my goal and I think that going forward to 2020, we can have additional athletes who can compete in skiing and in a variety of other winter sports. I was surprised to find out that there are many Eritrean skiers who play for other countries, but I hope that together we can send them a message to come and compete for Eritrea.

Climate isn’t an obstacle to take part in winter sports. There are sports like cross-country skiing which Eritrea can fit in perfectly being a country with many places on high altitude. Cross countries use athletes who are strong and have endurance which I have faith in since Eritrean athletes are famous for their strength and endurance. Eritreans possess the physiological characteristics to do well in competitions. It is true that climate may put on limitations in ice skiing; however, the athletes can travel to train in areas where there is ice. During the summer season I, too, do travel abroad to the southern hemisphere to train. Living in a country where it doesn’t snow doesn’t mean you can’t pursue winter sports.

Growing up in the diaspora, sport was crucial for me to keep me out of trouble and it kept me disciplined. Sport teaches you a lot of values. So through my participation I was hoping to send a message that the Eritrean youth can be involved in any kind of sports to shape their lives. I am also happy to know that I have accomplished that goal.

  • Competing for Eritrea not Canada

It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to encounter since I was born and raised in Canada. Although I carried my Eritrean identity very close, part of me was connected to Canada. But at the end of the day, I really knew where I stood and I belonged to Eritrea.

  • A message to the Eritrean Youth

I hope that the Eritrean Olympic Committee and I would succeed in establishing a winter sport team connecting with Eritreans from all over the world. Hopefully with my participation the message is positive and stronger. I strongly believe that any Eritrean, regardless of where they are, can get involved in some sort of sports. I hope all the interested Eritrean athletes would come together and strengthen the Winter Sports Federation. I do see a bright future and hope that someone else can take the torch in 2026 and beyond at the Olympics.

Shannon receives certificate from the Commission of Culture and Sports for his contribution to name Eritrea at Winter Games

Flag bearer Shannon- leads the team during the Opening Cer¬emony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.