Next stop: the track @ Rio Olympics 2016? 6


Yves Sikubwabo: built to run

Yves Sikubwabo (#569): born to run

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 cruising to a win: plenty more where that came from

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.


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6 thoughts on “Next stop: the track @ Rio Olympics 2016?

  • Superscout

    Well Abbot – that is a very cool story. It has everything: war, poverty, an orphan, a refugee and young talent. Brilliant young talent. I’ve spent a lot of my life bemoaning the wasting of talent – but it is never been more poignant or sad for me than when it has occurred through true hardship and tragedy. So wonderful to see that Yves is alive and well in Canada now and wouldn’t it be great if your prediction comes true and he becomes a big star. As a side note – it would seem that in his case running was (literally) a better “way out” than soccer/football would have been. “Making it” really fascinates me – sometimes the reasons for success in sport and life are random, sometimes quite particular. Could one say that if Yves had chosen soccer he might be dead now?…

    • the Abbot Post author

      Good question, Superscout – and difficult to know. Some of what I’ve read about Yves suggested that he’d recognized early on that his running represented a way to a better life…similar to the way many emerging soccer players in the favela or b-ballers in US inner cities might feel about their sport and their lives. In Yves’ case everything would be much heightened because of the murderous race-based struggles in his country.

      Another piece I read on Yves, though, highlighted this sad paradox: his growing celebrity as Rwanda’s best young runner was the very reason behind his being increasingly threatened by the group that had killed his parents. We might imagine, then, that if he were not such an outstanding runner, he wouldn’t have been such a target – but he’d still be in Rwanda.

  • StevieG

    Geez, the situation is so sad over there. Been going on for so long…at least Yves met some kind Canadians (I couldn’t help but chuckle at that phrase a bit, guys.) But I’m glad for him and will follow his story as he possibly heads toward the Olympics, as you say. If that happens that story will be worldwide…wonder what they will think of it back in Rwanda?

    BTW, Abbot, and also Sscout, get your profiles set up please, so I have more data to mess with. And anyone else reading this…click the ‘login’ button up on the top-right of the main page and get started with your own BPITW profile too, so you can show everyone else what makes you one of the best at what you do!\

  • Superscout

    Will do Stevie. You may have noticed that I deeleted some old accounts. The account I’m going to go with now is Superscout. I tried to approve your friend request via iPhone but couldn’t. Will do that on my laptop tonight. Will also beef-up my profile. It’s looking good though. Much more interesting and dynamic.

  • Bonnie Mugabe

    I followed Yves in all his youth life, as he finished high school until when he went for the world youth championship. It wasn’t an easy life for him and he even reached a moment when the federation wanted to even stop him from traveling to Canada for the world championship.
    But as a journalist who even followed this young man, i knew that one day, he could realise his dream.
    At that time, he was the only athlete relied on to represent the country at the 2010 Singapore Youth Games and after he stayed in Canada, they fielded another emerging young athlete.
    Well all i can say, Yves your are able of reaching higher heights, just be yoself and run and your will one day take part in the Olympics just like you wish. congs and stay blessed