BARELY seven years after being listed as a national sport taekwondo is one of the most rapidly growing sports in Rwanda.
Rwanda is ranked top in the East African region, sixth on the continent and 40th worldwide. One of the people who have played a notable role in the rapid growth of Taekwondo is Regis Iyumva, the former national team captain.
The 23-year-old taekwondo sensation shocked the local sports fraternity last November, when he announced his retirement from professional taekwondo to focus on nurturing the next generation of taekwondo athletes for the country, starting from grass-roots level.
“I retired from playing to focus on coaching and raising a new generation of taekwondo players. I realized there would be no sustainability, if we don’t build from the grass-roots. Children are the future of taekwondo in Rwanda,” Iyumva explained to Saturday Sports’ Richard Bishumba in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
After retiring, the soft-spoken Iyumva initiated Bluesky Taekwondo Academy where children as young as 4-years train under watch of qualified coaches. The club now has 64 regular subscribers aged between 4 and 16 years.
Iyumva is not the sole taekwondo player in his family. His young sister, Carine Ishimwe followed in his footsteps. Last year, she was crowned champion in the Under-13 category.
Who is Iyumva
Iyumva was born on July 6, 1994 in Kigoma sector, Nyanza District in Southern province to Jean Marie Vianney Musoni and Godance Mukarurangwa Iyumva. He is the third born in a family of six, two boys and four girls.
He attended Ecole Primaire Kimironko II and went to ESPANYA in Nyanza for O’ Level studies before going to College de l’Espoir – Gasogi for A’level where he completed secondary school in 2014. He majored in Computer science, Economics and Mathematics – CEM.
Currently, Iyumva is a second year student at University of Kigali where he is studying Business Information Technology (BIT).
Apart from taekwondo, Iyumva is also an avid football fan and supports Rayon Sports in Rwanda, Barcelona in Spanish football and Manchester City in the English Premier League.
Before committing to taekwondo in 2007, Iyumva played football and was the goalkeeper for his primary school football team.
“In 2007, a friend of my father from South Korea visited and stayed with us for a few days. He would wake up early every morning for taekwondo drills. As a 13-year-old curious boy, I joined him in his workouts, just for fun. Although I didn’t know or ask him what the sport was, I loved it and after I moved around Kigali looking for where it is played,” he vividly recalls.
He added; “In search for taekwondo clubs, I joined a few clubs but realized they were only training in either karate or kung-fu.”
He finally learned there was an International Youth Fellowship (IYF) in Kimironko where South Korean experts come every year to offer training in taekwondo, and Iyumva didn’t hesitate to join.
Although he learned different qualities and skills from different senior players in Rwanda, Iyumva says he has no one he can call a mentor or an idol in the game on the local scene. Globally, he was inspired by English player Ian Cook.
After some good years of hard work and promotion in ranks, Iyumva caught the attention of trainers and received his maiden cap in the national team in 2013. Two years later, he was named the captain of the national team after the retirement of former skipper Placide Bagabo, who is now president of Rwanda Taekwondo Federation – RTF.
Since making his debut in international competitions in January 2014 at Chairman Cup Kenya, where he won bronze, Iyumva never looked back. He went on to represent the country in several international and globally respected competitions.
Only in 2014, he also carried the country’s flag in Dutch Taekwondo Open, in Netherlands, where he was eliminated in his third match of the competition in July, and Morocco Taekwondo Open in October where he lost his opening match to suffer an early exit.
2015, Iyumva’s busiest season
When Iyumva thought he had seen it all in 2014, the next year even proved to be more overloaded. Only in that season, he had to travel for international competitions, at least once a month.
The same year, he made his debut in African Taekwondo Championship in Egypt, a debut in WTF World Championships in Russia and a debut in Hammadang Open in South Korea. Iyumva also represented Rwanda at the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo- Brazzaville but was knocked-out from his first match.
After the August-September All Africa Games, Iyumva and Team Rwanda were invited to take part in Tournoi de France in October. The team, led by Coach Irene Bagire, honored the invitation but the competition was called off at the last minute due to a terror attack that took place a day before the tournament.
From France, the team headed to Morocco for qualifiers of the 2016 Olympic Games. Iyumva managed to win three matches but was brushed aside in his fourth game and consequently failed to book a ticket to Rio Summer Olympics in Brazil.
Iyumva’s last international competition was the 2016 African Taekwondo Championships in Egypt where he exited in the second round.
Five years of unrivaled dominance on local stage
Iyumva enjoyed five years of unrivaled dominance on local stage from 2012 to the time of his retirement on November 27, 2017. In the 5 years, Iyumva only lost two matches in Rwanda, the final of Ambassador’s Taekwondo Open in 2015 and the final of the 2017 Genocide Memorial Tournament.
During that five-year spell, Iyumva was crowned champion of the flyweight (58kgs) category for a record five consecutive times. He is also a record 5 times gold medalist title holder in the annual Gorilla Taekwondo Open.
Note of thanks
When asked to name special people who have been helpful in his career, Iyumva said, “There are a lot of people who have been supportive in my career, but the main three would have to be Boniface Mbonigaba, Placide Bagabo and Martin Koonce.”
Mbonigaba is Iyumva’s former coach at IYF and currently serves as Rwanda Taekwondo Federation’s secretary general while Martin Koonce is the former technical director of the federation and former head coach of the national team.