Adrien Niyoshuti, the only athlete that has booked a ticket to next year’s London Olympic games, was leading the Rwandan delegation at the All-Africa Games that begun yesterday in Maputo, Mozambique. As the fourth best mountain-biker in Africa, he is the only real chance that Rwanda has to get some kind of award in these Games. Truth be told, the rest of the delegation are nothing more than mere tourists who, in between sightseeing, will run, jump and swim in vain. If I was a betting man, I would put a little money on him winning at least a bronze medal, the first medal Rwanda might win since Maricienne Mukamurenzi’s silver medal in the 10.000m race in 1987. The last time we were close to seeing our flag being raised at the winner’s podium was in 2007 when Dieudonne Disi finished fourth in the half marathon.
Our lack of top athletes in rather confusing. We have the perfect altitude to spawn top endurance runners. Top athletes do their training in places like the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands because the thin air helps them produce more red blood cells, making them able to utilise oxygen more efficiently and run faster and for longer distances. Our athletes don’t have to worry about high altitude training; the entire country is a high altitude zone. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found that almost everyone living in this country had the red blood cell count of Paul Tergat. Look at all the hills in this country, some of them are absolute monsters but still people live on them. I can only imagine the stamina levels of someone born on these hills; throw in the low fat, carbohydrate diets of the boys and girls living here and you have the building blocks of a proper athletics programme.
In Kenya, these building blocks are picked out in primary school, followed in secondary school and groomed to be top athletes. In Rwanda, nothing. We don’t have post-primary athletics’ competitions that showcase the best of each and every region in the country (and if we do, then it’s obvious that they aren’t a big deal). So, fellows such as Disi are simply bolts out of the blue. We aren’t creating an athletic programme; we are just making do with what falls into our lap. And presently, the ‘manna from heaven’ is coming in drips and drops. So, what should we do? Put the athletics federation to task. Why aren’t we producing athletes? Is it possibly because they are too lazy to go about things the right away? Is it possibly because Rwandan athletes always get wildcard passes to major athletic competitions, and therefore don’t need to qualify the way other elite athletes qualify?
Rwandan football was going the same way of athletics a while back. Our national team, the Amavubi Stars, was made up gnarly veterans of the game, men who started playing for the team in 1996. And as these successful veterans retired they were replaced by Congolese misfits, and others who should have never worn the shirt. After years of mediocrity, the football federation finally decided to actually invest in the game. What’s the end result? Our boys have sat at the very top of the table of youth football, and I’m sure that this has only whetted their appetites for more success.
Rwanda Athletics, I beseech you. Do things the right way, we have the ability to be among the best in Africa. I’m sure that the next Usain Bolt running around somewhere and all we have to do is unearth him and then reap the rewards.