Salome Nyirarukundo made history, set records and won several accolades as Rwanda’s leading female runner. She has traveled across the world representing the country in countless international competitions – including the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Nyirarukundo, a two-time champion in women’s half marathon of the annual Kigali International Peace Marathon, was earlier this year voted the 2017 female athlete of the year in Rwanda.
In September, she struck gold while making her debut at this year’s Montreal Marathon in Canada – the event’s 28th edition.
However, the 21-year-old has since been nowhere to be seen. Reports suggest that she missed her flight after the competition. Has Nyirarukundo become the latest athlete to go AWOL? That the question many are asking themselves.
Born in Rwanda in 1997, she does not have any ties with Canada.
When asked about her whereabouts or whether they communicate, her coach Eric Karasira responded, “No. We have not talked since September.”
For a number of times, Saturday Sport has tried to reach the athlete via her known contacts but her telephone lines have all been off. Her WhatsApp line shows that she was last active on September 18.
The middle and long distance runner won the Montreal Marathon on September 23.
International competitions give athletes around the world, a chance to compete and shine on global stage.
In April, powerlifting coach Jean Paul Nsengiyumva and beach volleyball player Denise Mutatsimpundu went missing in Australia during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Para-Taekwondo athlete, Eliezer Tuyishime, disappeared in London after the 2017 Para-Taekwondo World Championship while the national team prepared to return home.
The vanishing of African athletes – at elite sports competitions is a custom that has been around longer than the Olympic Mascot.
Only at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, more than 40 athletes and officials went missing, overstayed, and later on sought asylum.
In September 2012, Rwandan sitting volleyball duo of James Rutikanga and Eric Ngirinshuti went AWOL after competing at the London 2012 Paralympics Games.
The pair left with their belongings from the athletes’ village in Stratford during the closing ceremony. However, Life became tough for Ngirinshuti, who later resurfaced at the Rwandan Embassy asking to be returned back at home.
He officially apologised and promised never to disappear again while representing the country. Since then, he was never recalled to the national team.
Back to Nyirarukundo, she has missed two events since her disappearance; she was due to compete at this year’s Commonwealth Half Marathon in Cardiff in the United Kingdom, on October 7, and was also expected to defend her title at the 2018 Run Blue race in Kigali last Sunday.
Olivier Rutangana, the Secretary General of Rwanda Athletics Federation (RAF), does not think Nyirarukundo has vanished.
“We would love that most of our athletes have agencies to manage them and help them in becoming professionals. Given her character of being ambitious, she must be looking for managers or still taking advantage of advanced facilities in Canada,” said Rutangana.
“It is an unconventional and bold move but at times we have to understand,” he added.
He explained that having many professionals will benefit the country, however, he was cagey when asked why she has taken this long to return.
The young female athlete had a contract with Nike under the assistance of Kenya-based Athletics Company called ‘Global Communications’.
While speaking to this publication on Thursday, her personal trainer, Patrick Niyibigira, also admitted that he had failed to reach the athlete since she travelled to Canada “without his notice”
“She cut off all her contacts, nobody knows where she is right now.”
For now, it’s hard to tell whether Nyirarukundo will return, hopefully, she will.