Olympics puzzle: You can't sow millet expecting to reap maize

Rwanda is still miles away from winning an Olympic medal -- that is according to the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee (RNOSC) vice president, Elie Manirarora.
Nathan Byukusenge trains in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the mountain bike race, which he did not finish. / Courtesy
Nathan Byukusenge trains in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the mountain bike race, which he did not finish. / Courtesy

Rwanda is still miles away from winning an Olympic medal—that is according to the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee (RNOSC) vice president, Elie Manirarora.

Excellent, and well-put, because Elie has hit the nail on the head, so if any sane Rwandan thinks our athletes can or will simply turn up and all of a sudden start winning medals at major competitions, including the Olympics, then they should stop thinking!


Some people, possibly out of baseless optimism or just sheer patriotism, may think this is a defeatist mentality but it’s the truth, and the sooner every Rwandan realized and accepted it, the better in terms of re-strategizing and preparing future potential champions.


Rwanda made her Olympic debut at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, United States and the country has been regular partaker in the biggest sporting event, but never won any medal.


To make matters even worse, Rwanda remains the only country in East Africa without an Olympic medal—even Burundi has two medals, with the latest coming at the just concluded 2016 Rio Olympics, through Francine Niyonsaba, who took silver behind South Africa's Caster Semenya in the women 800m.

In the region, Kenya, which everyone knows is an international athletics powerhouse, has won a staggering 100 Olympics medals (31 gold, 38 silver and 31 bronze), followed by Uganda with seven (2 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze) while Tanzania (2 silver) and Burundi (1 gold and 1 silver) have two each.

These figures are proof that, with proper planning and investing in the right sports disciplines, Rwanda too can win an Olympic medal.

But first Rwanda needs to first do away with this mentality of waiting to take its athletes to the Olympics through invitations. Our athletes must work hard and early enough to earn their ticket through proper qualifying competitions.

In Rio, Rwanda had seven athletes but two (swimmers) were there on invitation because they couldn’t attain the qualification minima while the other five qualified, but the two cyclists failed to finish their respective competitions.

Only the three runners finished their races, although, had we known what the outcome would be in advance, they would have been better advised not to compete in the first place because none of them made any improvement, instead they posted times way below their respective personal best.

In defence of our athletes though, there is no shame about them not winning an Olympic medal since we are very aware of their capabilities, but for how long will this trend continue? Answer on a postcard.

Anyway, until we invest in a proper national sports development agenda, I am afraid we shall only keep bleating and counting more perceived disappointments after every four years.

Why do I say perceived disappointments? Well, with all due to respect, we don’t have the moral authority to be disappointed or even complain when our athletes don’t win anything at major competitions because they’re often not well prepared to be in a position to compete against the best.

Rwandans are known for being ambitious and not wanting to settle for anything less than what they believe is the best for their country as we can testify by the social and economic transformation that the country has registered in the last 22 years.

However, talking about sports and what every Rwandans wishes for the country, we need to set ambitious but realistic targets, only that way, it will be a bit easy for us to hope or even expect some success.

Just imagine, had Rio silver-medalist Francine Niyonsaba been Rwandan, what we would have happened. She would not only become a national hero and deservedly so, but we would be all over the moon, but she is not and all we can do is just admire and probably wish she was.

Ever since Niyonsaba rose to prominence after winning the 2012 African Championships in Athletics, in what was only her third competitive race, the 23-year old did not sit on her success, instead she upped her preparations and see what she has achieved four years down the road.

I am tempted to want to believe that all is not lost on Rwanda winning an Olympics medal in future because it’s not as if the world is ending soon or the country going anywhere, but that said, we need to start putting our money where the mouth is, and not think that we can sow millet to reap maize.

After yet another failure in Rio, we need to take stock of the athletes’ performances and immediately start preparing for Tokyo 2020, which is not as far as some may think.

Youngsters like Salome Nyirarukundo (18), Jean Marie Vianney Myasiro (19), Janvier Hadi (23) and Jean Bosco Nsengimana (22) have the potential to push for something that we can all be proud of, so why not give them the chance to be able to achieve what has never been achieved since Las Angeles 1884.


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