The Athletics World Championship ended on Sunday in Beijing. Now, Athletics is not a big thing in Rwanda and so the Beijing event may have gone largely unnoticed here.
But there are a few real sports fanatics who will follow any sport anywhere, even if it is only in the comfort of their living rooms.
And so for a week we were treated to some wonderful competition, complete with some of the most gripping individual and national rivalries.
The duel between Kenya and Ethiopia for honours in middle and distance running is one of the most intense and riveting rivalries. Occasionally the odd Eritrean gets into the mix and gives the contest another dimension.
Their kin who have moved for better fortunes (surely not greener pastures) in the desert sands of the Middle East add to the fun but never really threaten the big two.
We like to see them beat the rest of the world. You see they are East Africans and so are family. We can brag that our own are on top of the world.
The East African exports to the desert lands don’t seem to inspire the same feeling of closeness. They feel like deserters, and in any case do not do as well as the others.
Perhaps the desert heat has sapped their energy, or its dust has damaged their lungs. Or maybe the gods of the highlands, feeling angry for being abandoned, withdraw their blessing from the ungrateful fortune seekers.
As expected, the two countries that sit atop the Great Rift Valley did well. Kenya came away with the most medals. Ethiopia was not far behind. Kenyans are not only good athletes, they are also very creative and have a good sense of humour.
They have turned a term that was meant to discredit them into a source of pride. They say they are a hotbed of champions (from the CNN hotbed of terrorism tag just before President Obama’s visit to Kenya recently).
The other gripping duel is in the sprints between the Americans and Jamaicans. Other brothers and sisters from Canada, Great Britain and other Caribbean islands vie to get between the two big ones and make the clash even more fascinating. In Africa, Nigeria used to have an interest in this duel, but that has been waning lately.
Now a superman and supreme entertainer from Jamaica called Usain Bolt has added to the attraction. So too has the diminutive but powerful Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, also from Jamaica.
The island is not famous for reggae and ganja, and its other Rastafarian connections only.
American and Jamaican athletes are also sort of family and so we take pride in their achievements on the track. You see, they are brothers and sisters in the diaspora.
Interest for most of us ends with events on the track. Field events have hardly featured any Africans, and so we cannot claim kin with anyone. Well, until recently, when a one Yego from Kenya strayed into this unusual area.
Yego is doing wonders with the javelin and it might not be long before others follow him. Whether they do so via YouTube or professional coaching doesn’t really matter.
Rwandans of old used to be experts with the spear – admittedly in a matter of life and death situation. Couldn’t we restore this skill and use it in the javelin? There must surely be some of it remaining in our genetic make up to make us compete with the Norsemen and this guy from the rift valley.
The high jump, too, was once a national sport at which we excelled. How about having these two as homegrown solutions to our sporting revival?
We would then have our own to cheer and not look for distant kin to identify with.
Now, sport is very entertaining whether you have a brother or sister competing or not. Nothing beats the atmosphere in the stadium in creating excitement. The noise, the cheers, waves of every description (the Mexican is the best known) egg on athletes to greater feats and create a festive mood among spectators.
For the sit home spectators like me, there is obviously something we miss. But there is another source of entertainment for the likes of me that makes us feel present at the event. It comes from the commentary box of various media. They compete for the most hyperbolic and colourful expression to create the right mood and paint a vivid picture.
For instance, when Yego throws the javelin farther than anyone else, there is the exclamation: “That’s huge. It’s massive. It’s absolutely colossal.”
Or a high jumper clears the bar and you hear this: “Oh, such elegance, such effortless ease. He seems to glide over the bar, float in the air before landing ever so gently.”
How great it would be to hear those remarks about a Rwandan javelin thrower or high jumper! I guarantee you it would bring tears to the eyes and joy to the heart.
You hear these remarks when an athlete has sped well ahead of the competition, like the Ethiopian Almaz Ayana did in the 5000 metres women’s race: “She has destroyed the opposition. She has brushed aside and crushed her compatriot, Genzebe Dibaba, destroyed her completely. Such a devastating pace. No one, not even the great Dibaba, can live with it.”
You may be sitting at home like me, but wouldn’t you enjoy that? How much more so if all those were being said about a home lad or lass? Tears, hugs, kisses and bragging would surely follow.
This is what is missing from our remarkable list of accomplishments.