Rwanda has chosen a cyclist as its flag-bearer for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games: Adrien Niyonshuti, a survivor of the 1994 genocide, and a mountain biker with a bright future. At 25 years of age, he is one of the most famous people in Rwanda, and is often regarded as a hero, as he embodies the past and destiny, the drama and the renewal of his country.
"I'm very happy to be bearing the flag but I don't feel any more special than the other athletes selected for the Games," he said. Niyonshuti is the only cyclist on the Rwandan Olympic team and is joined by six other athletes who will take part in athletics, swimming and judo.
"Above all, I would like – as a result of these Olympic Games – that people think of my country in terms of sport and cycling in particular, even as simply a great nation," continued Niyonshuti. "The first thing people think of at the moment is the genocide, but that was 18 years ago. I want people to concentrate on the positive aspects of my country."
Rwandan cycling symbolizes this renewal particularly well. The national Tour, rated at 2.2 on the UCI calendar for the last four years, is the most popular sporting event in the country – even eclipsing football – and has a unifying effect on the nation. As for the national team, made up mostly of young survivors like Niyonshuti, it has in parallel moved from the regional level to become one of the best in Africa.
Aimable Bayingana, President of the Rwandan Cycling Federation, spoke of the honour bestowed on Niyonshuti as the opening ceremony approaches. "Adrien is like a son, for all of us: he honours those who love cycling and develop the sport here, and he embodies the values of the whole country.
"Children identify with him, and many would like to take up cycling, but unfortunately we don't have the means to do this to the extent that we would like. Adrien will achieve things at these Olympics that most other people cannot dream of.
"Each time that Adrien is riding, Africa rides with him," said Bayingana. "The whole continent will be on his side."
Four other nations at the London Olympics will have cyclists as flag-bearers for the opening ceremony this evening: Chris Hoy (Great Britain), Marion Pajon (Colombia), Lee Wai Sze (Hong Kong, China) and Evelyn Garcia (El Salvador).