London 2012: Rwandan team builds a sporting legacy beyond victory

HOPES OF A NATION: Four of the seven members of the Rwandan Olympic Team (from left) Robert Kajuga, Jean Pierre Mvuyekure, Alphonsine Agahozo and Fred Yannick Uwase Sekamana
HOPES OF A NATION: Four of the seven members of the Rwandan Olympic Team (from left) Robert Kajuga, Jean Pierre Mvuyekure, Alphonsine Agahozo and Fred Yannick Uwase Sekamana
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FOR the Rwandan Olympic team, the legacy of an appearance at this summer’s Games will stretch far beyond just the world of sporting success.

A sovereign state of central and eastern Africa, Rwanda will be heading to London, their eighth Olympic appearance, having only tasted success on the world’s greatest sporting stage once, when Jean de Dieu Nkundabera won a Paralympic bronze medal in the wheelchair racing event at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

The nation’s main hope of a repeat success lie with team captain and mountain bike rider Adrien Niyonshuti, who qualified for the competition after a fourth-place finish in the Mountain Bike Continental Championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa, last February and has been out in America in the run-up to the Games, competing in the World Championships.

However, despite playing down his own chances of standing on the podium come Sunday, August 12, the 25-year-old’s appearance at Hadleigh Farm alone will be enough to inspire the continuing progress of a nation gripped by a tragic genocide only 18 years ago, claiming the lives of an estimated 800,000 people.

Niyonshuti himself lost six of his brothers as a result of the atrocity, but with incredible mental strength and determination has progressed since receiving his first bike, given to him by his uncle as a teenager, to now being set to lead out a seven-strong team at London 2012.

His team-mates are 50m freestyle swimmers Alphonsine Agahozo and Jackson Niyomugabo, marathon runners Jean Pierre Mvuyekure and Claudette Mukasakindi, judo player Yannick Fred Sekamana and long distance runner Robert Kajuga, who has qualified in the 10,000m.

Their preparation for the Games saw the team set up camp in Bury St Edmunds this month with a lasting impression being left on the people of the town which has inspired ‘Go Rwanda’, a project set up to ensure that the legacy of their visit stretches across St Edmundsbury far beyond 2012.

It has seen projects in education, sport, business, and culture helping to build a long-lasting relationship between the town and the nation.

That project also joins the ‘Sport For Rwanda’ fundraising appeal, which was launched by the Steering Group in 2011 and aims to raise £80,000 to leave a lasting change in 140 schools in the country by giving them sports equipment, a place to store it and educational materials to help teachers, giving more than 100,000 schoolchildren the ability to take part in sport.

As a result, London 2012 may not bring a medal haul or sporting success to Rwanda but its inspirational athletes’ appearances promise to leave a lasting legacy for a continuing brighter future across the nation.