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Genocide survivor to carry Rwandan flag

  • By VeloNews.com
  • Published Jul. 27, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:41 PM EST

LONDON, England (AFP) – As a terrified small boy, Adrien Niyonshuti was forced to hide in small holes in the ground as he fled the horrors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide which left an estimated 800,000 people dead.
  
Eighteen years later, Niyonshuti is hoping to portray his war-torn African homeland in a more positive light through his exploits at the Olympics, where he is participating in the cross country mountain bike event.
  
The 25-year-old is one of only seven Rwandan athletes set to compete at the Games and, as the only cyclist from his country, has been given the honor of carrying the Rwandan flag at the opening ceremony.
  
He will be one of five cyclists — one of whom is British track king Sir Chris Hoy — to carry out the honor.
  
And while Niyonshuti’s ambition is to simply finish “in the top 20″ of his event, he hopes the performances of Rwandan athletes will have another impact.
  
“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,” said 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.”
  
For Niyonshuti, Rwanda’s tragic history remains seared onto his consciousness.
  
His six brothers and several friends died while he faced a daily struggle for survival from the mass slaughter.
  
Nearly two decades later, Niyonshiti is preparing for one of the biggest honors of his career, but added, “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.”
  
Although his dream is to race the Tour de France, for now Niyonshuti will have to settle for having the “whole continent” watching his every move.
  
“Each time that Adrien is riding, Africa rides with him,” said Rwanda Cycling Federation president Aimable Bayingana.
  
“The whole continent will be on his side.”   He added, “Adrien is like a son, for all of us. He honors 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.”

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