On Sunday, Rwanda’s highly rated track race and long distance runner Salome Nyirarukundo won a gold medal in the women half marathon to end a decade-long jinx in the Kigali International Peace Marathon.
The 20-year-old made history after becoming the first Rwandan female athlete to win the half marathon since the inception of the annual event in 2005.
With this win, Nyirarukundo also became the second Rwandan to win gold after Dieudonne Disi in the men’s half marathon in 2006 – the annual event has been dominated by Kenyans over the years.
In an exclusive interview with Times Sport, Nyirarukundo weighed in on why Rwanda is trailing in athletics.
The Rutsiro-born fast rising athlete cited inadequate preparations and lack of will from officials as a core factor that has seen the country struggle to develop.
“First of all, we lack trust from not only officials but even Rwandans, we are considered underdogs and because of that, we are never given adequate preparations, my target in this marathon was to beat Kenyans to prove to everyone that we are capable of winning and bring back that trust among Rwandans,” said Nyirarukundo
“I am very sure that if our leaders were willing to give us sufficient preparations, we can even bring those international medals that have remained an impossible mission, we can’t train for just one week and then ask us to win medals, let them give us maximum facilitation all time and then we shall be responsible if we fail to win medals,” she added
It is only Rwanda in the East African region that has never won an Olympic medal in any sport despite being regular participants since making their debut 1984 in Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Kenyan athletes have won 91 medals in total since 1956. 61 of these medals came from the long-distance running events.
Ugandan athletes have won a total of seven medals, all in athletics and boxing since 1956, Tanzania holds two medals both in athletics since 1964 while Burundi has also won two since 1996.
Nyirarukundo has emerged as Rwanda’s hopeful to compete at the highest level at such a young age. Last year, she became the first Rwandan athlete to win a regional gold medal for two consecutive years winning the Dar-es-Salaam Rotary Half Marathon title.
In April, this year, she won the third edition of Berkane International Half Marathon on her debut in Morocco as well as setting a new course record.
Early this year, she struck a deal with Global Sports Communication, which also has bases in Uganda, Kenya and China.
In August, she will represent Rwanda at the IAAF World Championships slated for August 4-13 in London, UK in the women 10,000m.
She qualified during her debut at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The entry standard in women 10,000m is 32 minutes and 15 seconds, valid from January 1, 2016 until July 23, 2017. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she finished 27th after clocking 32:07:80.