10 September 2012

Rwanda: Paralympians Deserve a 'Pat On the Back'

Instead of pumping millions of Rwandan francs in the so called 'priority sports' whose results have been mediocre at best, it's high time the Ministry of Sports and Culture (Minispoc) ventured more in sports for athletes with disabilities, who have put Rwanda on the world sports map.

While everybody was fussing about the London Olympics, it was obvious that Rwanda's best bet for a medal lay in the Paralympics Games which climaxed yesterday. And although the country was unable to get that much-craved podium slot, performances by Hermas Cliff Muvunyi and Théogène Hakizimana are worth mentioning and even applauding.

Besides proving that his All Africa Games heroics in 2011 in Maputo were not a fluke, the 24-year-old Muvunyi also showed that he can compete with the world's best after finishing 5th in the men's 400m final. In fact, some will argue that hadn't he lost his footing mid-way through the race, a podium finish was very much in sight.

Nonetheless, the budding athlete did us proud. So far, he has come closest to winning the country a second medal at the Games since 2004 when Jean de Dieu Nkundabera defied the odds to win a bronze medal in the men's T46 800m race after clocking 1:58:95.

Last week, Muvunyi clocked 49.59 to finish one second and 14 micro seconds behind final winner Gunther Matzinger of Austria. Brazil's Nascimento Yohansson (49.21) and Pradeep Sanjaya Uggl Dena Pathirannehelag (49.28) of Sri Lanka finished second and third respectively. Despite finishing outside the medal bracket, Muvunyi still managed to set a new African record (49.59). This was a continuation of his All Africa Games' form were he won gold in 400m and silver in 800m.

Théogène Hakizimana also proved that there is life beyond track and field sporting disciplines following another spirited display in power lifting. Hakizimana, who was competing in the men's 82.50kg category, finished 7th after going as far as 175kg. While he was a long way from Iran's Majid Farzin who took gold with a magnificent lift of 237kg, finishing inside the top ten was a formidable feat.

China's Gu Xiao Fei settled for silver after falling short (228kg) while Africa was also well represented by Egypt's Metwaly Mathana who stranded at 227kg.

On Friday though, Team Rwanda become the 1st sub-Saharan African team to win a Sitting Volleyball match in Paralympics after beating Morocco 3-1. Although it did not mean much since Rwanda was already out of the medal bracket, the athletes and the nation were elated at the team's first ever victory in the games after losing to superior opposition. Despite dominating the Sub-Saharan sitting volleyball tournament (a qualifier for the London Paralympic Games) and heading into London with eyes firm on a podium slot, the team found the going tough as they lost all their group matches to finish bottom.

The disappointing run started with a straight-sets defeat against Iran before suffering back to back defeats against Brazil, China and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

One of the major reasons behind Rwanda huge strides in Paralympics and sports for the disabled in general is an efficient and focused national Paralympics committee headed by Dominique Bizimana, who also happens to be on the national sitball and sitting volleyball teams.

During an interview in London recently, he said that the reason they have come this far is because they are 'committed and passionate' about the sport.

In 2010, the country's sitball team affirmed their status as one of the best teams in the world when they won the Sitball World Cup which was staged in Uganda. The men's team edged Germany 21-20 while their female counterparts had a much easier task after thrashing Uganda 33-8.

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