When the maiden Kigali International Peace Marathon was held 14 years ago, Uganda’s Joseph Nsubuga and Margret Nakindu swept the top prizes in the men and women races, respectively.
Rwanda’s Epiphanie Nyirabambe finished third and was the only Rwandan to get a podium finish. The country had to wait for seven years to get another podium finish through Robert Kajuga who finished third in the Half Marathon.
Three years later, in 2015, compatriots Jean Baptiste Ruvubi and Eric Sehabire finished second and third in full and half Marathon, respectively.
Throughout the years, it has been largely Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians who have dominated the annual marathon save for Rwanda’s fast-rising female long distance runner, Salome Nyirarukundo, who ended a decade-long jinx by winning the 21km gold in 2017.
Alain Numa, the head of promotion, sponsorship and events at MTN Rwanda, the main sponsors of the Marathon, told The New Times that Rwanda’s terrain, clean and well-paved roads and security would be complimentary if more was done by concerned authorities to take athletics to the next level.
Numa also suggested that Kigali International Peace Marathon would go a long way in offering a suitable test for local athletes against regional and international competitors if well planned.
“I can’t say our marathon is at the same level as the London Marathon. But 14 years later we should perhaps be talking of the biggest marathon in Africa,” Numa said.
“There is everything necessary to make the Kigali Marathon more competitive, bigger and better, and this requires strong collaboration between sponsors, and organisers such as the athletics federation (RAF), Ministry of Sports and the City of Kigali (because it is a Kigali event). We are working together but we can do better,” he added.
Even though RAF’s Secretary General Olivier Umutangana believes that the marathon has been a learning platform for local athletes for the last 14 years, he thinks that “more experience” in still needed until local runners become competitive.
“Besides promoting peace and attracting foreign participants to take part the Kigali International Peace Marathon, it also prepares our athletes for international races,” he said.
“Our athletes haven’t won as many medals as Kenyans because the latter have had longer experience. That is what we are trying to give to our runners. Long-term preparation, good training facilities and experience are crucial for successful athletics,” Umutangana said.
When MTN partnered with the athletics federation to co-host the race in 2014, about 2,000 people were taking part on an annual basis.
“Over 6,000 people participated in the 2017 edition and we expecte 8,000 people this year. I have no doubt that once there is strong collaboration between key actors, the Kigali marathon will be one of the biggest on the continent,” Numa stated.
We just need to find ways of taking advantage of our hilly terrain, which would make it the most difficult race plus our friendly culture, clean and safe city”.
From the Rwf2000 per head in registration fee, the organisers are able to award 24 people, the top six men and women in two categories; Full and Half Marathons. The highest prize is Rwf2 million while the lowest is Rwf800,000.
Currently, MTN Rwanda is the sole sponsor of the annual event.
However, in three to four years, Umutangana says, the Kigali Marathon is expected to grow in terms of renowned marathoners taking part as well as sponsorship.
“With the introduction of Kigali night runs and car-free weekends, these two might be the platform to build hype around the Kigali International Marathon.” Umutangana noted.
The marathon will be held this Sunday and registration is ongoing via Mobile Money service and at MTN outlets and service centres.