Athletics is one of the most popular disciplines in Rwanda.
Although no local athlete has won an Olympic medal, Rwanda has been a regular participant in the Olympics since 1984, when the country made her debut.
However, despite the Olympic medal drought, Rwanda has produced a number of high profile athletes since then and these include retired star Dieudonne Disi, Epiphanie Nyirabarame, Claudette Mukasakindi and fast-rising Salome Nyirarukundo to mention a few.
Saturday Sport tracked down Mukasakindi who has twice represented Rwanda at the Olympics in women full marathon, including London 2012 and 2016 Rio Games.
The 34-year-old Mukasakindi has competed in several international events and currently is the most experienced active female athlete in Rwanda.
Mukasakindi never dreamt of becoming an athlete; but noted that during her childhood, she used to be very fast in whatever activities she would put her mind on. She reveals that she started running in 2004 at the age of 22.
“It all started when our sector organised a race that was aimed to promote a campaign to fight against Malaria. I decided to join in the race just for fun but I was surprised I won it.”
After this win, she went on to compete at the district level, where she also won and went ahead to compete at the provincial level and again the results were the same.
“After those three competitions, several local coaches approached me all asking that I join their teams, but because I felt I wasn’t ready, I turned them down until 2006 when I joined APR Athletics Club,” she reveals.
After joining APR, Mukasakindi earned her maiden call up to the national team to represented Rwanda at the 35th IAAF World Cross Country Championships that were held in 2007 in Mombasa, Kenya. She finished 59th clocking 30 minutes and 59 seconds.
Two years later, she again competed at the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships that were held in Amman (Golf Club Al Bisharat), Jordan, this time finishing 53rd after posting 29 minutes and five seconds.
Again in 2009, Mukasakindi participated in the IAAF/EDF Energy World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham, Great Britain where she finished 45th clocking 1:16:31. This time remains her best personal record in half marathon.
That same year, she competed in the 10,000m during the Francophone Games in Beirut, Lebanon where she scooped a gold medal after 35 minutes, 32 seconds and 60 microseconds.
In 2011, Mukasakindi competed at the 39th IAAF World Cross Country Championships that were hosted in Punta Umbría, Spain. This time she finished a distant 82nd clocking 28 minutes and 33 seconds.
The following year, she had her best year of her career, competing in the 3000m at the 14th edition of IAAF World Indoor Championships that took place in Istanbul (Ataköy Arena), Turkey where she clocked 9 minutes, 26 seconds and 89 micro seconds, which remains her personal best in this category.
Later that year, she won the Cagliari Full Marathon, with a personal best time of 2 hours, 40 minutes and 18 seconds.
This performance was within the time required by the IAAF for qualification for the 2012 London Olympic Games, but Mukasakindi’s bid to appear at the Games was initially rejected on grounds that the Cagliari event was not part of the race earmarked for qualification.
In the end, however, she was permitted to run, and finished 101st on her Olympic debut, with a time of 2:51:07 but she says, it was a dream come true to compete at the biggest sporting even on the planet.
She again competed in 10,000m at the 2013 Francophone Games that were held in Nice, France and scooped bronze medal after posting 33 minutes, 20 seconds and 87 micro seconds. The time remains her personal best at this distance.
In 2015, she competed at the Firenze Marathon in Italy and posted 2 hours, 41 minutes and 33 seconds hence qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
She hoped to improve on her performance in London, and spent significant time preparing in Kenya and Italy. However, despite going through ample training, her performance in Rio de Janeiro was poor finishing 126th out of a field of 133 participants after posting 3h:05’:57”.
The 34-year-old won a bronze medal at the Kigali International Peace Half Marathon in May this year, with a time of 1h:20’:36”.
Born on December 25, 1982 in Kigali sector, Nyarugenge district, City of Kigali to Abel Rwaburindi (RIP) and Esther Mukaderevu (RIP), Mukasakindi is the seventh born in the family of nine, including four girls and five boys.
After completing her primary education at Groupe Scholaire Mwendo, Mukasakindi did not advance further and instead decided to join a technical school where she studied tailoring.
“I actually don’t know why I dropped out of school because all my other siblings studied and some have gone up to university level,” explains, the soft-spoken long-distance runner, who stands at 1.60 m (5 ft 3 in) and weighs 50kg.
Best and worst moment
“My best moments were winning gold in the 10,000m during the Francophone Games in Lebanon and a bronze in 2013 in Nice, while my worst moment was my performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where I had hoped to perform better than at London 2012.”
Mukasakindo says: “I don’t think I have much time as an active athlete but when I retire, I plan to go into coaching and help the young athletes to reach their dreams.”
“I thank my teammates at APR, because the beginning was tough and at some point I wanted to quit but they encouraged me to stay. I also thank my coach Innocent Rwabuhihi for, he helped me a lot and last but not least, the Rwanda Athletics Federation for everything they have done to develop the sport.”