29 December 2012

Rwanda: Attaining Success in Rio Needs Hard Work

The last outing of Team Rwanda at the London 2012 Olympics Games was a huge disappointment as the team failed to win any medal. Despite the expectations of many and the huge financial investment put into both preparation and participation, Team Rwanda had a dismal performance at the last Olympic Games.

This year, Rwanda fielded seven athletes; Adrien Niyonshuti (mountain biking), Jean Pierre Mvuyekure (men's full marathon), Claudette Mukasakindi (women full marathon), Robert Kajuga (10,000m), Yannick Fred Sekamana (Judo) and two swimmers in Alphonsine Agahozo and Jackson Niyomugabo. None of these athletes could ensure that Rwanda's national anthem was sung for the first time at the Olympics and they returned home with an empty basket.

Kajuga was the only athlete who deserved to wear the national jersey in London. Considering that he was new to international stage, he defied odds to finish a respectable 14th in a 10,000m strong field which had the likes of the Bekele brothers 'Kenenisa and Tariku' from Ethiopia, Great Britain's Mo Farah and the Kenyan trio of Bedan Karoki Muchiri, Moses Ndiema Masai and Wilson Kiprop.

Claudette Mukasakindi was overwhelmed by the atmosphere. She came in at a distant 101st place with a time of 2 hours, 51 minutes and seven seconds, which was eight minutes and 49 seconds shy of her personal best.

There was little to say about the swimmers, Alphonsine Agahozo and Jackson Niyomugabo, apart from sympathising with them. It was total injustice to have them train in a 22-metre pool when the Olympic size swimming pool is 50 metres.

Adrien Niyonshuti, the only athlete who adequately prepares for major events, the other athletes' preparations left a lot to be desired.

While everybody was fussing about the London Olympics, it was obvious that Rwanda's best bet for a medal lay in the Paralympics Games. And although the country was unable to get that much-craved podium slot, performances by Hermas Cliff Muvunyi and Theogene 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 showed that he can compete with the world's best after finishing 5th in the men's 400m final.

Muvunyi clocked 49.59 to finish fourth, one second and 14 micro seconds behind final winner Gunther Matzinger of Austria in the T46 800m. 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.

Hakizimana displayed a spirited display in power lifting. Hakizimana, who was competing in the men's 82.50kg category, finished 7th after going as far as 175kg.

Meanwhile, this year, Team Rwanda became the 1st sub-Saharan African team to win a Sitting Volleyball match in Paralympics after beating Morocco 3-1. 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's huge strides in Paralympics and sports for the disabled in general is an efficient and focused national Paralympics committee headed by Dominique Bizimana.

Many have attributed the poor performance of Team Rwanda to lack of adequate preparation, poor management of athletes, and incompetence in the sports federations.

Despite Team Rwanda's dismal performance at the recently concluded London 2012 Olympics, there is much optimism in getting better results from the Rio 2016 Olympics if the respective federations, Ministry of Sports, and the Olympics Committee do the needful.

If we start to prepare now, we can win a few medals in Rio in 2016. We must begin now to work towards the target and believe it is possible.

Much as everyone is under pressure now, we must resist the temptation for reflex action.

The Sports Ministry should now outline a plan to get talented kids from across the federation for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The government should inject money which could be used among, other things, in sourcing for and training quality athletes while also restructuring the various sports federations.

But Government alone cannot carry the burden; the corporate sector has to weigh in. Yet the private sector will not come in because they are nice people but will only come in if they are presented with a business proposal from the federations, and once they are worthwhile investment otherwise, they won't make any impact. So such issues should be tackled in time.

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