Burundi's Ornella Punching Above Her Weight


Ornella Havyarimana, 24, the first Burundian boxer of any gender to represent Burundi at the Olympics was at the 2020 Games. She spoke with Moses Havyarimana on her journey as a female boxer and challenges as a professional.

She won a Bronze medal in a qualifying competition before the Games in Kinshasa and hopes to achieve more as a top Flyweight.

When did you start boxing? And what inspired you?

I started boxing in 2012, but stopped because of studies and resumed in 2013. I always watched boxing on television, then one day while jogging, I came across boxers on the streets and asked them if I could join and they welcomed me.

How was it like starting your career as a female boxer?

I started when I was 15 years old, it wasn't easy because I had to train with boys so it wasn't easy. But because I was passionate I knew I would succeed. I started my professional career when I travelled to South Korea. I had no coach by then and it was my first time to travel outside the country so it wasn't easy for me. There was a lot that I needed to learn and for the coach to be by my side, so I learned a lot. After that trip, I spent like four years without competing outside the country for some reasons. It didn't discourage me and I kept working hard because I knew I needed to get somewhere and then in 2018 I travelled to India for the world champions and I performed well.

How did your first two competitions grow your passion?

It made me come back to some hard work and in 2019 I travelled to Gabon and also played in the East African Games where I won a bronze medal, I kept working hard because I wanted to reach the top in boxing.

So I have fought in several international competitions including one in Kinshasa where I won a bronze medal as well. I qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games recently even though I didn't bring back home any medal but I still have hope I will make it in the near future.

You said training with boys was difficult how was it? And what was your experience from the Olympic Games?

I had to spar with boys because I had to, but this helped me to push myself. The experience I got from the recent Olympics is that I should always thrive to be better and fitter and move myself to another level.

Because Tokyo was my first Olympics, and the first time Burundi was represented in boxing, it was a dream come true for me and I was very happy. Although it didn't go well I am looking forward to 2024 and hope to do better.

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