Athletes can boost Rwanda’s standing in London

In six days, the London 2012 Olympics, which promise to be one of the most distinctive Games in recent memory, will officially start in Britain.
Bonnie Mugabe
Bonnie Mugabe

In six days, the London 2012 Olympics, which promise to be one of the most distinctive Games in recent memory, will officially start in Britain.

The opening ceremony will be held on July 27 and be called “The Isles of Wonder”. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle will be the artistic director for the opening ceremony and the music directors will be Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of the electronic music duo Underworld.

The games will be officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg.

Over 10,000 athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), Rwanda inclusive, will participate, surpassing the 1948 Games in London and 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester as the largest multi-sport event ever to be held in the United Kingdom.

To Rwandans, many will be keen to see how their young-select side, which is out there to defy odds by not only registering good individual performances but even dare dream of winning medals—although the later prospect looks a distant target.

Four years ago in Beijing, the story regarding Rwandan athletes was more or less the same this year’s—Rwandans thinking their athletes can do the unthinkable by winning an Olympics medal without really working for it in terms of preparations.

To say that Rwanda’s performance in Beijing was disgrace would be a seriously understatement.

The team was constituted of two athletes; Disi Dieudonne and Epiphanie Nyirabarame and two swimmers; Jackson Niyomugabo and Pamela Girimbabazi.

Veteran runner Disi was the country’s highlight at the Games as he finished 19th in the men’s 10,000m track event which was won by Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele.

Nyirabarame, who carried Rwanda’s flag in the Chinese capital, finished in a distant 68th in the 42km women’s marathon. For the swimmers, they couldn’t even get to past the heat stages where they staged awful performances.

Experience was of no significance to Girimbabazi, the most experienced member on the team at that time following appearances in the 2000 Sydney Games as well as the 2004 Athens. She finished 14 seconds off the qualification cut.

The devastating performance acted as a wakeup call for the National Olympic Committee and Sports Ministry. It increasingly became clear that the team cannot achieve anything as long as the preparations are below par.

Four years down the road, even still without sufficient preparations, Rwandan can still have hope, however distant, in its seven athletes in London.

The country will be represented by swimmers Jackson Niyomugabo (24) and Alphonsine Agahozo (16) in 50m freestyle, marathon runner Jean Pierre Mvuyekure (28), 10,000m runners Robert Kajuga (27) and Claudette Mukasakindi (32), judo player Yannick Uwase Sekamana (18) and mountain bike rider Adrien Niyonshuti (25).

Even though they won’t win medals, unlike our neighbours Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia because of reasons beyond their capacity, there at least hope they will put up a spirited fight.

The athletes have had better preparations than in the previous two Olympics, and considering that they have trained on modern facilities in Suffolk, hope is that they will put up a credible performance.

For France based Sekamana, who has previously competed in international judo competitions at a junior level, he just wants to do his country proud: “I hope that I give a good impression of Rwanda and don’t disappoint anyone.”

“I’m nervous, but that is expected going into any competition. Everybody in Rwanda is waiting for us to do something good.”

Rwanda’s quest for medals starts on July 30 with Sekamana competing in the Men’s -73kg judo category at Excel.

Niyomugabo will join the pursuit on August 2 as he competes in the 50m free style heats before Agahozo goes into the pool the following day at Aquatics centre.

Mukasakindi will also vie for a medal in the women’s 10000m final on August 3 at the Olympic stadium. On August 4, Kajuga will run in the men’s 10000m final at the Olympic stadium.

On August 12, Mvuyekure will compete in the men’s marathon final on the streets of London while Niyonshuti will battle in the Men’s cross country mountain bike competition.

After the Olympic Games, focus will be shifted onto the Paralympic Games which will kick on August 28 to September 9.

Rwanda will be represented by Theoneste Nsengimana (1500m T46), power lifter Théogène Hakizimana, Hermas Cliff Muvunyi (400m & 800m T46) and 12-man sitting-volleyball team.

Rwanda has never won an Olympic medal and there is little or no hope at all that fortunes will change in London, but in 2004, retired athlete Jean de Dieu Nkundabera won for Rwanda a Paralympic bronze medal in the Men’s 800 m T46 clocking 1:58.95.

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