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A George Mason University graduate played a key role in the best-ever Olympic Alpine finish by an African skier during the recently completed Beijing Winter Olympic Games in China.
Mike Seium, who received a master’s degree in sport and recreation studies from Mason in 2018, served as the chef de mission for Team Eritrea and successfully helped orchestrate the rare African presence in Olympic Alpine skiing.
Shannon Abeda, Eritrea’s first Winter Olympian, finished 39th in the giant slalom, the best finish ever by an African skier. And he has Seium, a former Division II soccer player whose family hails from Eritrea, to largely thank for making sure the rest of the world knew about it.
“It’s been a very rewarding ride,” Seium said. “It was an incredible experience. Being able to share those stories of Black athletes means a lot to me because I was a Black athlete. For me, it was a great experience.”
Seium and the rest of Team Eritrea arrived in China on Feb. 1 and stayed for 18 days, the duration of the games. As the chef de mission, Seium was responsible for all five people on Team Eritrea, including the team’s COVID-19 officer, during the games. His primary job, however, was to connect with the media to see to it that Abeda’s powerful story of overcoming injuries and battling the long odds of competing in a sport long dominated by richer and whiter countries was heard.
That wasn’t a problem for Seium, a former sports journalist for Al Jazeera who is no stranger to major international sports events. It wasn’t long before Seium had secured interviews with Abeda with the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN Africa, CNN International, Chinese TV and the Olympic Channel, among other media outlets.
Seium credited his degree and experiences from Mason as being critical to both his Olympic success and his formation of a nonprofit that seeks to better promote athletes from the entire African diaspora.
“I think that having that degree helped me to network more because Mason is known for that,” he said. “That was a big plus.”
Craig Esherick, an associate professor of sport management within the College of Education and Human Development, recalled Seium as always having had an interest in international events and developing sport in Eritrea.
“His appointment as chef de mission for the Olympic Games is a tremendous honor as well as an opportunity for him,” Esherick said.
In the meantime, Seium hopes to begin work on a PhD in sport management to better take advantage of his experiences.
“I’m not in it for the money,” he said. “I’m more into trying to help young people try to achieve success.”