BY Dollita Okine, 1:30pm January 31, 2024,

Ashley Ongong’a is first-ever African to compete in cross-country skiing at Winter Youth Olympic Games

Ashley Ongong'a has made history by being the first African and Kenyan to compete in cross-country skiing at the Winter Youth Olympics. Photo: Instagram, Ashley Ongong'a

Ashley Ongong’a has made history by being the first African and Kenyan to compete in cross-country skiing at the Winter Youth Olympics.

The 16-year-old told, “It’s a big responsibility because I know now so many Africans now know about me. I really hope that, [after seeing me] many other young people can see it as an amazing opportunity to try skiing. Because I think it’s time for Africa to fully come into winter sport.”

After trying skiing at the age of four, the Kenyan-Italian pacesetter dreamed of competing at the Olympics a year later. She had glided on roller skis before, so she knew how to transfer her strength and endurance to the snow and ice with ease.

“I was like three or four when I started to roller ski. My first coach asked my parents if I could ski, and when I tried it, it became my first love. I did many other sports too, like dancing, but when I had to choose, I chose cross-country skiing,” she recounted.

Her father, Steve Ongong’a, who immigrated to Italy, recalled that “It was during the summer holidays when she was four years old. Her mother, Marie-Jeanne Kamba enrolled her for summer camp activities with a local ski club. During her first skating lesson, her instructor noticed she had a good skiing posture and asked if she wanted to try cross-country skiing… she has been training ever since.”

Ongong’a loved the fact that she picked it up rather quickly. As a child, she began competing in regional and national contests, and by the age of ten, she was already winning Italian age group competitions, paving the way for her ambition.

She told her parents how much she enjoyed watching the Olympics on television and how she hoped to compete in the Olympics one day, waving either the Kenyan or Congo flag, when she was as young as five or six years old.

She had no idea that when it came time to choose which nation to represent on the FIS circuit, her wishes would come true. Ongong’a chose Kenya, her father’s native country, because of its rich sporting heritage, despite her mother’s origins in the Congo.

Ongong’a took a cue from Philip Boit, the first Kenyan to compete at the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998, after learning about his extraordinary journey. 

“After that I started to have this idea of going to the Olympics and I talked about it with my coach, Francesco Silverio,” said the student at Bachmann Sport College in Tarvisio, an Italian municipality known for its heavy alpine snow.

She was thrilled to find out she would be able to compete at Gangwon and said that choosing Kenya was a wise decision because the country is consistently at the top of its respective sports. As the newest representative for Kenya, Ongong’a aspires to carry on flying her country’s flag at the Olympic Games in a sport that is considered a test of speed, endurance, and flexibility, following her groundbreaking performance in Asia’s first Winter Youth Olympics.

She said, “It’s all in my mind … if I say I can do this, I will do this. And once I try to do it, I can be better next time.”

“It’s an amazing moment for me and for Africa. I really hope that I can inspire African youth all over the world that they could also try this,” said Ongong’a, who competed in her second Cross-Country Roller Skiing Junior World Cup competition this season.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 31, 2024


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