Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: Nyirabarame Olympic Snub Timely

Rwanda Athletics Federation (RAF)'s decision to omit long distance runner Epiphanie Nyirabarame from the upcoming London Olympic Games is a move in the right direction.

Some eyebrows were raised over her snub but recent results show that she is past her prime.

On paper, she is a two-time Olympian thanks to wild cards from the Olympic Solidarity for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and 2008 Beijing Games but unlike Dieudonne Disi (who has won a number of international races), her performances have been mediocre at best.

Nyirabarame, who has been Rwanda's trailblazer on the international stage in the women full marathon, has complained of unfairness in the selection process insisting that she has not been given a satisfactory reason for her omission despite having a wild card courtesy of the Olympic Solidarity Commission.

"I deserve an explanation from RAF for the snub because I was given a bursary to prepare for the Games by the Olympic Solidarity but I recently learnt that my place on the team had been given to someone else," a distraught Nyirabarame said.

Away from her distant 66th position in Beijing four years ago, the 30-year-old still failed to hit the minimum qualification mark in last year's World Championships in Daegu, South Korea after pulling out at the half-way mark (21.095km) with a muscle strain in her left leg.

On the other hand, her much younger rival Claudette Mukasakindi made her intentions clear by winning gold in the Cagliari marathon after clocking 2:40:18, a standard B time that is within the qualification mark for the Games even though it was later discovered that the marathon was not among those shortlisted and approved by the IAAF.

A combination of injuries and poor form among other athletes swung RAF's decision in Mukasakindi's favour.

"After all of the deliberation, it was decided that the most important thing was to have the right performance at the right time," RAF president Jean Damascene Nkezabo said. "Lots of people had the right performances at the wrong time. Mukasakindi has done well over the last few months so we decided to go with the best athlete on current form."

Meritocracy

Despite declaring herself fit for the Games, Nyirabarame who believes she has been treated with 'a lack of respect' was given the news last week. She was told that she was excess to requirements - news which was hard to swallow as it effectively ended her dream of competing in three Olympic Games.

However, RAF stood their ground insisting that the federation selected the best athletes at their disposal for the Games.

"The Olympics is about winning and you're belittling that if you say: let's throw a spectacle by picking someone more popular. That belittles the Olympic ideal of excellence."

"It's unfortunate that she feels that way because we chose athletes we feel are best placed to compete in London," Nkezabo explained. "This is not an issue for sentiment. It's not an issue for nostalgia. It's about being the best athlete in your discipline. She has done well for Rwanda over the years but it's time to give way to young talent."

While her snub provoked a storm of controversy, RAF's decision to axe the aging star means the budding Mukasakindi will take her rightful place in the spotlight.

"The Olympics is about winning and you're belittling that if you say: let's throw a spectacle by picking someone more popular. That belittles the Olympic ideal of excellence. It's supposed to be about the pinnacle of someone's career. You have to pick the best athletes," the RAF president stressed. "This is the Olympics. It's a meritocracy and an athlete should be there on merit."

The first batch of Team Rwanda which includes Robert Kajuga (10,000m), Jean Pierre Mvuyekure (half marathon), Yannick Fred Sekamana (Judo) and Alphonsine Agahozo (swimming) arrived in London last week. The quartet is camped at West Suffolk Athletics Arena and will be joined by the second and final batch early this week before relocating to the Olympic Village.

The London Games are a must-watch. On top of the highly billed showdown between US swimming stars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, the men's 100-meter final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake should bring the best out of both men.

Blake heads to London full of confidence after defeating Bolt, the reigning 100m and 200m Olympic champion and world record-holder, in the Jamaican Olympic trials two week ago.

The Games are slated to run from July 27 to August 12.

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