BP has just seen the future of Canadian middle distance running – and his name just might be Yves Sikubwabo.
The Ontario Federation of Secondary School Athletics (OFSSA) held its annual cross-country championships on a cold clear day in early November on a tough course in Etobicoke’s Centennial Park. Among thousands of the province’s top runners competing that afternoon, one athlete stood out: 17-year-old Yves Sikubwabo from Ottawa.
Well, only recently from Ottawa. Yves’ personal story is as compelling as his form and pace as a runner. Born in Rwanda during the country’s genocidal civil war, Yves was orphaned as a baby and raised by his aunt. He dreamed of playing soccer – until he took up running at age 8 and began dominating races, even against much older kids. By 2009 he was beating nearly all the adult 1500m runners in Rwanda, and was selected to represent his country at the World Junior Track & Field Championships in Moncton, NB, July 2010.
After his 1500m race in Moncton, Yves spoke to his aunt in Kigali. She told him that those responsible for killing his parents – who had continued to threaten his family throughout his youth – had returned and that his life was in danger. So Yves, with nothing except his clothes and running shoes, made his decision: he left the Rwandan team and bought a bus ticket to Ottawa to start a new life.
Fortune lent a hand: Yves soon met kind Canadians who took him in and helped him to claim refugee status – and others, including Mike Woods, director of the Ottawa Elite Running Team, who immediately recognized Yves’ extraordinary athletic gifts. (These gifts include an otherworldly effortless stride, speed enough to run a 3:50 1500m, and the endurance to have clocked 1 hour and 12 minutes in his first-ever half-marathon.) Mike Woods invited Yves to join the OERT, where he now trains as a regular team member.
He’s also enrolled in Gr 11 at an Ottawa high school and is settling into Canadian life: a fascinating article in yourottawaregion.com mentions his growing popularity, evident at the OFSSA race as his name was constantly called out by those lining the course.
Yves went on to win the OFSSA 7km Senior Boys’ championship race in a time of 21:22, twelve comfy seconds ahead of the next best competitors in the province – all regional champion runners themselves, of course. If you’ve got 21 minutes & change, watch the entire race in an amazing video (below) shot from the back of the pace vehicle that led the runners around the course. Spoiler alert: Yves takes over the second half of the race in a way that might remind athletics fans of the Steve Prefontaine biopic Without Limits. The OFSSA vid is hosted on runnerspace.com, which also has a post-race interview with Yves, plus footage from other OFSSA races that day and a horde of running-related videos, photos, blogs, groups, merch, and articles from around the world.
Meanwhile, write this name down: Yves Sikubwabo. Practise saying it. But don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time; we think you’ll be hearing it again soon.
Congrats from Best Player in the World, Yves – and continued success in running and in getting used to your new life in Canada. Welcome.