In early February, Rwandan Adrien Niyonshuti became the first athlete from his country to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in London after finishing fourth at the UCI Africa Continental Cross Country Mountain Bike Championship in Jonkershoek, Cape Town, South Africa. That is 4th place in the Pro Elite category, the top division.
“Something that started out as a dream when we began to work with Adrien two years ago after seeing him at the African Continental Cycling Centre has now become a reality,” said Doug Ryder, MTN team owner.
It has been twenty years since a Rwandan has qualified to represent his country in the Olympic Games.
For any African to qualify for the Olympics is big news, but one coming from Rwanda is trumpets blaring headlines. The small, Africa country is most noted for the civil war that many refer to as a genocide. In fact, six of Niyonshuti’s brothers were killed in the genocide of 1994. Sports Illustrated April 2011 edition will explore Adrien’s harrowing journey from surviving the Rwandan genocide as a 7-year-old to becoming one of the best cyclists in Africa and qualifying to take on the world’s top riders at the 2012 Olympics.
In 2009, Niyonshuti signed a professional contract with MTN Energate South Africa’s premier cycling team. Last year, Adrien competed in the Tour of Ireland. He won his first, major professional mountain bike on February 19th of this year at the MTN Clarens ultra-marathon. His winning time for the ultra-marathon over 113km was 5 hours 45 minutes.
Adrien is both a cycle, road racer and mountain bike racer. There is hope that the entire Rwandan road team will compete in the Olympics.