Embracing the Olympic Spirit on the African Continent | Concept2

Embracing the Olympic Spirit on the African Continent

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Jun 29, 2021

For athlete Kouadio Franck N’Dri (who goes by the name Franck-Aimé), rowing is not just an Olympic dream, but a deeply personal goal: he rows in his late father’s memory as a way to connect to and remember the man who taught him the sport. Franck-Aimé realized at a young age that he wanted to do something significant in rowing. Representing the Ivory Coast at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will surely fulfill that goal.

Franck-Aimé was among many young “boat rats” who hung around the boathouse on Abidjan Lagoon in the Gulf of Guinea. There, he crossed paths with Tim Turner, a Canadian National Team athlete (who competed at the 1984 Olympics in the M4-). Turner has worked in Africa for over 25 years with the African Development Bank and rowing kept him connected to the many watersports he enjoys, including marathon canoeing and kayaking. He recognized a motivation in Franck-Aimé that could be nurtured. “Even today, Franck-Aimé trains mostly alone, self-motivated to wake up early, train, row, work all day and then continue in the evening at the gym,” explains Turner.

Turner recognized that with dedication, Franck-Aimé could advance in his rowing career. Even though at 5’10” Franck-Aimé is a “smaller” rowing athlete, his hard work and commitment has led him to strong results at various African regattas. He began to look to racing in Europe to gain experience; World Rowing supported him with opportunities to race at regattas in Italy.

With a life more focused on training, a sponsor, the Mollon family, helped him to secure housing close to the boathouse and has provided him with “rowing family”, nurturing his passion. He lives strategically close to the boat club, work and the gym so he can easily transition throughout the day. He trains at the Equinox gym, where he lifts weights and uses the Concept2 RowErg.

Under the patronage of Jean Francois Doreau, his employer, SOCOPRIM, has fully supported his athletic ambitions. In the Ivory Coast, Franck-Aimé boats from the ASEC athletic club at Sol Beni. He rows on a tidal body of water with ferries that throw around five to six feet wakes. To row internationally, however, Franck needed more resources beyond the lagoon.

Turner encouraged Franck-Aimé to pursue opportunities outside of the Ivory Coast. Through a few rowing and personal connections, Turner connected Franck-Aimé with Coach Steve Hap Whelpley at Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Since 2019, Franck-Aimé has been training on and off in Vermont with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project team. Craftsbury’s Director of Sculling, Troy Howell, travelled to Tunisia to support Franck-Aimé at the African Olympic qualifying regatta.

Through rowing, Franck-Aimé has traveled, met new people, and represented the Ivory Coast on an international level. He’s hoping these experiences grow the visibility of rowing in his own country, showing how the sport can provide opportunities. The Ivory Coast Minister of Sport was excited to learn of Franck-Aimé’s progress in rowing. The sport is still relatively unknown in a country where the other athletes headed to Tokyo include the soccer (“football”) team, taekwondo athletes, and track and field sprinters. Franck-Aimé is now a role model for the younger athletes who have seen how far rowing has taken him.

Franck-Aimé is one of several athletes now representing Africa in international regattas. Rowing on the African continent has grown: in the past thirty years, the number of African countries has increased from two countries to thirteen. The governing body, World Rowing, has worked hard to create breadth in the entry system so that more countries can qualify. When Franck-Aimé crossed the finish line at the African Continental qualification regatta, he missed out placing in the top five to qualify for Tokyo. The qualification system, however, requires countries who qualify multiple boats to choose only one crew to send to the Olympics. Franck-Aimé earned his spot when a crew in his race forfeited their entry to send another boat from their country. This was a surprising turn of events! “Within an hour I watched him go from being super pumped to race, to super depressed to not making it, to being super pumped he was invited to Tokyo,” explains Turner.

The trip to Tokyo will be a challenging international racing experience; Franck-Aimé is not a medal contender. For Franck-Aimé, qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics is not likely to be the pinnacle of his career, however, but a stepping stone. With only three years until the next Olympics, Franck-Aimé has his sights on continued training. With his discipline and tenacity, we’re sure he’s made his father and his country proud.

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