When Janvier Hadi crossed the finish line in the men’s road race competition last Sunday with a one-minute lead on the peloton, he wrote history after bagging Rwanda’s first gold medal at the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville.
It was the first time a cyclist won gold at the continental multisport event beating traditional powerhouses like Algeria, Eritrea, South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia who are all ranked above Rwanda.
Three days earlier, Rwanda had won bronze in the men’s team time trial where Hadi alongside Valens Ndayisenga, Joseph Aleluya and Jean Bosco Nsengimana displayed a spectacular performance behind South Africa (gold) and Algeria (silver).
In the road race competition that Hadi won, 63 riders abandoned the race and only 65 finished the competition that attracted 27 countries from across Africa.
Among the ones who did not finish is Tunisian Rafaa Chitioui of Skydive Dubai pro cycling team, winner of this year’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, a 2.1 event considered as one of the toughest cycling events on the UCI Africa calendar.
Hadi’s gold medal and the cycling team’s continued success outside the country is a sign that the status quo that is failure to win medals at continental and world events is slowly coming to an end.
Rwanda is yet to win a medal at the Summer Olympics but Jean de Dieu Nkundareba won bronze in the men’s 800m at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Hadi’s victory is up there among the greatest sporting moments of this country that were highlighted by Mariciane Mukamurenzi who was the first Rwandan ever to win a medal (silver) at the All Africa Games when she won the women’s 10,000m in 1987 in Nairobi.
She also won gold at the 1988 Africa Athletics Championships in Annaba, Algeria before adding gold at the 1989 Francophone Games in Rabat, Morocco.
Muvunyi gold at 2011 All Africa Games
After Mukamurenzi’s achievement, Rwanda suffered mediocre appearances for the next five editions with no gold medals despite sending athletes in several sports disciplines but in 2011, Paralympian middle distance runner Hermas Cliff Muvunyi won gold in the men’s 800m T46 category in Maputo, Mozambique.
This gold medal earned Muvunyi a place at the London 2012 Paralympic Games but was unfortunate to be disqualified in the men’s final of the same event.
With a hunger more than ever to make it count on the international scene, Muvunyi continued working hard and indeed it paid off the following year.
Muvunyi wins World Championships gold
He would later storm to gold in the same event at the 2013 IPC World Championships in Lyon, France to write history as the first Rwandan ever to win gold at the international stage.
This performance earned him respect on the international scene and as he flew Rwanda’s flag high created a legacy that disability is not inability more so to achieve childhood dreams.
He suffered a setback with a long-term injury but he recovered earlier this year to get ready for the All Africa Games, yet another opportunity to defend his crown but to also qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Muvunyi wins gold at 2015 All Africa Games
Following in the footsteps of Hadi, Muvunyi won Rwanda’s second gold medal after clocking 49.16 ahead of Namibia’s Elias Ndimulunde (49.52) and Noumbo KJL of Ivory Coast (50.19.
Gatete’s historic goal against Ghana
Another sporting moment that Rwandans will never forget is an 87th minute winner by Jimmy Gatete as Amavubi defeated Ghana in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier to eventually send Rwanda to her debut appearance at the continental tournament at the expense of the Black Stars, a renowned perennial giant.
It is the most celebrated goal in the history of Rwandan football and in terms of popularity is up there having been watched by young and old, female and male fans across the country and world over by Rwandan nationals that it is still the talk in the West African nation when Rwanda is mentioned.
The essence of the goal at the time when all odds were against the Amavubi, the endless celebrations from the stadium that evening to the talk of the week, month and year with media houses awash with commentary, Gatete’s goal will never be forgotten.
That goal earned him a contract with South African side Maritzburg United and forever changed his life.
Junior Wasps qualify for FIFA U-17 World Cup
When Rwanda hosted the CAF U-17 Africa Championships in 2011, a great performance in front of the home fans saw the Junior Wasps open the group stages with a fantastic and shock 2-1 win over Burkina Faso through goals by Faustin Usengimana and Charles Tibingana.
Central defender Usengimana who was in form netted a lone strike against Egypt to secure three more points and despite a 1-0 loss to Senegal, Rwanda had already qualified for the semifinals which automatically qualified them to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
A Justin Mico goal against Ivory Coast secured a place in the final against Burkina Faso and despite a Tibingana goal, Burkina Faso won the tie 2-1 but history had been made.
Rwanda made a debut appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup and even though the Junior Wasps did not manage to win a game in Group C against England, Canada and Uruguay, history had been made.
Ndayisenga wins Tour du Rwanda
Last year, 20-year old Valens Ndayisenga became the first Rwandan to win the coveted Tour du Rwanda since its inception on the UCI Africa calendar in 2009.
Ndayisenga, who worked along his committed teammates from the three Rwandan teams including Karisimbi, Akagera and Muhabura, put up a stunning fight against eventual African champion Mekseb Debesay (Eritrea) from Bike Aid in Germany, Aron Debretsion of Eritrea and Moroccan Salaeddine Mraouni.
Niyonshuti qualifies for London Olympics
In 2011, Adrien Niyonshuti qualified for the London 2012 Olympics after finishing fourth at the African Mountain Bike Championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
He became the first Rwandan to qualify for the Olympics, a unique feat from the usual wildcards allocated to athletics and swimming by their respective international bodies to encourage developing nations to be represented at the prestigious event.
He went on to become the first Black African to compete in a mountain bike race at the Olympics and was 39th finishing the race, an achievement in itself.
For the not so many sporting moments that have brought significant pride to the nation of Rwanda, Hadi’s gold medal last Sunday is up there among the above mentioned events.