TAEKWONDO remains one of the youngest sporting disciplines in Rwanda but it is also hailed as one of the few fast-growing and best performing sports in the country.
Despite being listed officially as a national sport barely seven years ago, Rwanda Taekwondo ranks top in the Eastern Africa region, eighth on the continent and 40th on the global arena.
Most of the founding icons of taekwondo in Rwanda are now retired veterans, the likes of Placide Bagabo, former national team captain and the president of Rwanda taekwondo federation, Martin Nduwayezu, Regis Iyumva, and Allan Irene Bagire and to mention a few.
According to the latest World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) rankings, Rwanda – in Africa – ranks only behind Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Niger.
With the veterans off the spotlight, and most of them now in administration and development programmes of the sport, there is a new breed of taekwondo stars on the block One of them is Benon Kayitare, the youngster who defied all odds to take to the captaincy of the national taekwondo team – and the youngest player ever in the leadership role.
The 18-year old is a Black Belt – Second Dan holder.
Who is Kayitare?
Born on September 29, 1999 in Kimironko, Gasabo District to Henry Mudaheranwa and Henriette Kabanyana, Benon Kayitare is the fourth born in the family of seven, four boys and three girls.
He attended GS Remera Protestant Primary School and went to Kagarama Secondary School where he did his first two years of secondary school studies before returning to GS Remera Protestant for senior three and his A’Level studies – majoring in languages.
He earned his secondary school completion certificate from the Protestant Church-affiliated school last year. He is yet to join university.
The youngster looks up to Iyumva, another former captain of the national team, for inspiration.
Since his childhood, Kayitare was an avid footballer and had never come across taekwondo in his life until 2011 when he heard of the Kimironko-based International Youth Forum (IYF) centre, a multipurpose youth centre where Koreans experts train kids taekwondo.
“Shortly after learning of the centre, I paid a visit there to see what they do and I enjoyed it –it was in December 2011. Coincidently, I found the club recruiting and training children for end-of-year demonstrations, and that’s how I ditched football for taekwondo. I have never regretted that decision” Kayirate told Saturday Sportin an exclusive interview on Thursday.
After two years of adapting to the new sport and the rigorous training, Kayitare had his first official competition in 2013, in the Genocide Memory Taekwondo Tournament where he won silver.
At the age of 19, Benon Kayitare is a black belt - second dan holder and the youngest Rwanda national team captain ever. File photo.
Despite being his first season in competitive taekwondo, Kayitare had an impressive welcome in the sport as he won medals in every local tournament he engaged in, including the Genocide Memorial Tournament, Gorilla Open, Ambassador’s Cup, and the national championships.
As a result, he was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 2013 season in the junior category.
In 2015, Kayitare was part of Team Rwanda that competed at the WTF Word Cup in South Korea where he scooped a bronze medal in individual demonstrations competition in the junior category – the same year he won gold at the Kenya Open.
The following year, he participated at the WTF Junior World Cup, held in Burnaby City, Canada. He finished in the eighth position.
Life in the senior arena
Described by his teammates and coaching staff as a ‘too mature and responsible’ man for his age, Kayitare was promoted to the senior national team effective 2017, and he kept shaking tables to outshine those he found the sport like he had dominated the juniors’ category.
On his debut in senior competitions, he staged a stunning performance to win gold in the Genocide Memorial Tournament – and was voted the MVP of the competition.
Mid the 2017 season, Kayitare was part of the 14-player Rwandan team that played the Uganda Ambassador’s Cup and won seven medals, including his gold medal.
Last September, Kayitare claimed gold in senior men’s category to take the Most Valuable Player award of Rwanda Ambassador’s Cup tournament held at Amahoro Stadium.
Rise to the captaincy
Barely one season into his senior career, Kayitare was earlier this year appointed the new captain for the national taekwondo team – replacing Iyumva who stepped down last year.
He captained Team Rwanda at African Taekwondo Championships staged in Morocco, in March, where he won silver in men’s individual Poomsae category.
Poomsae (also known as patterns) are a set sequence of movements that consist of the various fundamental stances, blocks, punches and kicks logically arranged in a meaningful order in response to attacks from multiple imaginary assailants.
In June, Kayitare scooped gold in the men’s flyweight (54kgs) category to make it six consecutive years winning a medal in the annual Genocide Memorial Tournament – five gold medals and one silver medal.
Earlier this month, the youngster won gold at the 2018 East Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Games in Dar es Salam, Tanzania. Rwanda won a total eight medals; five gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals.
The taekwondo sensation is a record four-time national champion and four-time gold medalist in the annual Ambassador’s Cup tournament.
Before he calls time on his career as a taekwondo player, Kayitare dreams of playing Olympic Games – and hopefully winning a medal there – before he can venture into taekwondo development and administrative engagements.