Monday, July 23, 2012

It Takes More Than a Village to Raise an Olympian

Yesterday afternoon Jock, Max, Adrien and I went in search of a mountain bike course in which to race.  Adrien does not have any races lined up from this point until his event August 12th at the Olympics, not the best scenario.  There is a race in France this weekend, however, Adrien is the flag bearer for Rwanda at the Opening Ceremony on Friday so will not be able to make the race.  There is no substitute for race training, so we decided to stage our own race in St. Moritz.  When we first mentioned it to Adrien he just laughed and shook his head no.  Adrien should know by now we are all a bit crazy tweaked and once the seed was planted we were going to race.

Adrien's long journey to the Olympics began in Kibuye, Rwanda in the fall of 2006.  Jock Boyer was invited by Tom Ritchey to help run the first Wooden Bike Classic race in Rwanda.  The winner of that first mountain bike race....Adrien Niyonshuti.

In 2007, Jock returned to Rwanda to search for additional talent and to help develop riders like Adrien.  At the beginning there was talk of the Olympics.  The 2008 Olympics.

It was a long shot but it was possible.  In 2007, the team attended the Mountain Bike Continental Championships in Namibia.  Adrien lost the bid  to a Zimbabwean by one place due to a broken freewheel and two flats.

As the Olympic qualifying races for the 2012 London Games came around, there was talk about Adrien and the Olympics.  It was still his dream and the dream of his coach and the dream of his country.  His first opportunity to qualify was at the 2010 Continental Championships in Rwanda.  Rwanda was the host country, Adrien knew the roads, we had all of our riders to support him, it was the perfect dynamic, until his chain broke near the end of the race. Dan Craven from Namibia was in, Adrien was out.

In early 2011 at the Continental Mountain Bike Championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa, Adrien had his final shot.  He had to place in the top two outside of South African cyclists.  He placed fourth behind two South Africans and one Namibian.  He had qualified for the Olympics.

Adrien is the first Rwanda cyclist in history to qualify for the Olympics.  At the 1992 Barcelona Games six cyclists were selected from Rwanda to participate in the Road Race.  

From that qualifying race in early 2011 until this moment everything in Adrien's life has been in preparation for this one day in August.  He switched his focus from road to mountain bike. His team at MTN Qhubeka, based in South Africa, designed his 2012 schedule around races which would prepare him physically for the Olympic course.  They also invested in sending Adrien to races throughout Europe for him to gain points for seeding purposes at the Games.  The higher his rank the further up the pack he will be at the start.  This is crucial.

Since the end of May, Adrien was taken in and cared for by Team Rwanda Cycling board member, former World Cup Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist, Thomas Frischknecht.  Thomas who retired a few years ago now runs the Scott Swisspower Mountain Bike Team in Switzerland.  Two of his cyclists, Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel, are representing Switzerland at the same event.  The effect of training with Thomas, his team, in altitude, at European races has been priceless.  Adrien became part of Thomas' family.  For that we are grateful.

Going to the Olympics is a huge financial commitment.  To give Adrien the best training costs money, a lot of money.  Douglas Ryder, the owner of MTN Qhubeka, Thomas Frischknecht and Team Rwanda Cycling have spent tens of thousands of dollars on this one Olympic race.  There are times I question the money.  I am always weighing the rate of return on any investment, project or program.  There are times I have thought about what else could have been purchased, which project we could have completed, how many other riders might have benefited from this investment, but then I realize, Adrien and the Olympics is more than just a financial deal.  It is the hope of his entire country, the hope to stand apart from its past, to be known as the country with the first Rwandan Olympic mountain biker and not the country known for the genocide.  Adrien at the Olympics is showing the good which comes from Rwanda.  There couldn't be a better example than Adrien.

From the beginning when one of our now board members from South Africa started funding the rider's salaries so they could focus solely on cycling, to the South African team who gave Adrien a shot at the professional level, to all the donors in the US who have helped with donations small and large, to the country of Rwanda who has committed to the sport of cycling, to our new friend in the UK giving Adrien shelter and quiet during the chaotic Opening Ceremony weekend, to the Swiss champion who took Adrien as one of own riders, everyone is a part of Adrien's moment.  It took an international community to raise an Olympic cyclist.

Adrien will not be on the podium in London.  He is good, but unfortunately, he is not the best.  Our goal with Adrien is to finish the race and give a solid performance.  That will be victory.  Actually, the victory is partially in the moment when he walks into that stadium this Friday evening carrying the flag of a healing country, walking in as an example of what is good and right about his home.


  1. You tell Adrien, he has a household in northern Nevada who will be cheering wildly for him!

  2. Will be rooting for Adrien in the UK. First heard of his story from my son who is working in Rwanda.