Are athletes ready to fly Rwanda's flag high?
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RWANDA will be making her third consecutive appearance at the 21st Commonwealth Games scheduled for April 4-15 in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Since the debut participation in the quadrennial event in New Delhi, India, in 2010, no Rwandan athlete has ever been able to win a medal. Hence, the complexity of history and heavy task to fly high the country’s flag in the Gold Coast on the shoulders of this year’s representatives.
While the international multi-sport event is set to attract over 6600 athletes vying for medals in 18 sports disciplines, Rwanda will be represented by 18 athletes competing in four sports, namely; cycling, athletics, power lifting and beach volleyball.
Rwanda was represented by 22 athletes at the 19th edition in 2010 and fielded 20 athletes at the 2014 Glasgow, Scotland Games, the number going will be two athletes less this year, thus further narrowing chances for winning a medal.
Saturday Sports reporter Richard Bishumba discusses the likely chances for Rwandan athletes at the global competitions.
Team Rwanda Cycling comprises a 9-rider delegation, including 6 male and 3 female riders.
If there is anywhere local sports enthusiasts are hopeful for medals, it is in cycling, especially because of the recent tract of records on the continent and clear purpose for the cycling federation Musanze-based Africa Rising Cycling Centre (ARCC) to produce champions beyond Rwandan boarders.
It is not the first time that Rwanda fields cyclists at the Commonwealth Games; it had six riders in men’s category in Glasgow. Former national team captain Janvier Hadi and Valens Ndayisenga competed in Individual Time Trial (ITT) and finished 19th and 23rd respectively.
Later, the duo was joined by Adrien Niyonshuti, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Gasore Hategeka and Jean Bosco Nsengimana but none of the six riders managed to finish the race that was won by Wales’ Thomas Geraith. The 168.2km race had 120 riders on the start-list but only 12 managed to cross the finish-line.
However, after a stellar performance at the just concluded African Continental Road Championship in Kigali where he won four medals, the reigning Tour du Rwanda and La Tropicale Amissa Bongo champion, Joseph Areruya, will be among African riders to watch in Australia.
Although the final team is yet to be assembled, it is unlikely that veteran Niyonshuti whose fitness and performance in African Championships was far from impressive, will be part of the squad.
Former Tour du Rwanda champions Nsengimana and Ndayisenga and youngsters Didier Munyaneza and Samuel Mugisha are among likely riders to make the final list to Australia, and if Rwanda is to break the medal duck at the Commonwealth Games, cycling is the best shot.
Athletics is another discipline where Rwanda has had representatives in the previous two editions, there won’t be any exception this year. But while the country was represented by 10 runners in 2014, the number has been cut to six athletes this time round, 3 men and 3 women.
With the presence of the world’s best athletics countries such as Kenya in distance events and Jamaica in sprint events, Rwanda stands slim chances for medals, but, if there is anything to go by for local athletes fanatics, all eyes will be on Salome Nyirarukundo.
The 20-year-old Nyirarukundo who is the historic first and only Rwandan athlete to ever win the women’s half-marathon in Kigali International Peace Marathon, a feat she recorded last year, will be making her debut in Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 10,000 metres.
After a fairy-tale performance at the recently held Barcelona half-marathon in Spain where she registered a personal best (1:08:36) to win bronze, Nyirarukundo is intensively training at the Global Communications Training Center in Eldoret. Kenya
Barely aged 18, athletics sensation Nyirarukundo represented Rwanda at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in Brazil where she finished 27th out of 37 competitors in women’s 10,000 metres. She clocked 32 meters 7 seconds and 80 microseconds.
Her personal best in 10,000 metres is 31:45:82, she recorded at the 2016 Olympic Games qualifiers in Durban, South Africa.
Rwanda is the sole African nation and one of the 12 beach volleyball national teams set to vie for medals in women’s beach volleyball. Beach Volleyball is a new event in Commonwealth Games.
The Rwandan duo of Denise Mutatsimpundu and Charlotte Nzayisenga booked a ticket to the finals of the XXI Commonwealth Games last October after beating Nigeria in the final of African Championships in Sierra Leone.
Rwanda has been drawn in Group C alongside favourites New Zealand, Singapore and Vanuata. Mudahinyuka’s ladies will have to finish in the group’s top two to secure a spot in knock-out stages, but, the road to the medal podium is even tougher.
Group A comprises of hosts Australia, Scotland, Grenada and Cyprus while Group B is made of giants Canada, England, Trinidad and Tobago as well as Fiji.
Since February 12, Nzayisenga and Mutatsimpundu are training at Amahoro stadium before entering residential camp on March 3 for intensive preparations in Rubavu district. The duo is coached by Christophe Mudahinyuka.
After the 2014 debut in powerlifting at the Commonwealth Games, Rwanda will be represented in men’s weightlifting for the second time. The 37-year-old star Paralympian Theogene Hakizimana was the sole country’s representative and the flag bearer of the delegation.
At this year’s edition, Rwanda will also be allowed one spot in men’s powerlifting and it is yet to be announced whether it is Hakizimana or a different athlete who will be sent to represent the country in that little known sports discipline in Rwanda.