Bagabo: the man behind Rwanda's Taekwondo sensation
Barely three years after being listed as a national sport, Taekwondo is fast becoming a popular game. In fact many argue that it has already surpassed some sports disciplines that have been around for decades. A Martial arts discipline, Taekwondo is one of the most rapidly developing sports in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s taekwondo is ranked top in the East African region and sixth on the continent behind Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Gabon and Ivory Coast. One of the people behind the rapid growth of Taekwondo is Placide Bagabo, the national team captain, who also doubles as the federation’s Secretary General.
The former Groupe Scolaire Kabare student never thought Taekwondo would be part of his life neither did he even know anything about the sport during his childhood.
During his early school days, Bagabo played football, handball and later Karate from 1997 to 2006. As a handball player at GS Kabare, he reached the semi-finals of the national inter-schools’ championships in 2003.
For nine years as a Karateka and a blue belt holder, Bagabo did not win anything noteworthy until he decided to ditch it for Taekwondo in 2006.
Five years of learning (2006 to 2010)
It took five years for Bagabo to learn and master Taekwondo despite the fact that the same sport is very similar to Karate.
During the five-year period, he became one of the toughest Taekwondo players on the local scene.
But he never featured in any regional or nationally recognised tournament because the sport was not recognised in Rwanda. Even the Taekwondo federation just came into place in 2011.
Since the start of his Taekwondo career in 2006, Bagabo has featured for two clubs namely National University of Rwanda from where he joined his current side, Gatenga-based Dream Taekwondo club.
After the official establishment of the Taekwondo federation in 2011, Bagabo started a new life in the game.
“Before 2011, Taekwondo in Rwanda was not counted among the serious games worth giving a try and even us, players had no hope but everything changed when we formed our governing body,” he told Saturday Sports.
Since 2011, Bagabo has won various local and regional medals of different grades and featured in some of the World’s biggest Taekwondo championships.
The soft spoken Bagabo is the two-time reigning champion in the 59-63kgs weight category having won a gold medal in 2012 before retaining it in 2013. He is also the East African champion in the same category. Bagabo also won a gold medal at this year’s Genocide memorial tournament held in early June.
He also won silver medals at the Uganda Open in 2011 and 2013 before bagging another at the 2013 Rwanda Gorilla Open tournament. He also won bronze medals at the Ambassador’s Cup in 2013 and this year’s Gorilla Open.
Bagabo made his maiden appearance at international competitions in 2012 in the African qualifiers of the 2012 London Summer Olympics staged in Cairo, Egypt.
In 2013, he featured in the Germany Open, Dutch (Netherlands) Open and most importantly World Taekwondo Championships held in Puebla, Mexico.
As the local Taekwondo Federation Secretary General, Bagabo also represented Rwanda at the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) general assembly in Mexico last year.
Bagabo started featuring for the national men’s senior team in 2011 and is one of the senior inspectors in the country.
He holds a black belt third Dan, the highest class in Rwanda but he shares the same grade with five others.
In the 2013 Gorilla Open in Kigali, he organised the tournament single-handedly after technical director Martin Koonce was wounded in an accident shortly before the competition started and yet he also had to compete.
“For the pride of the nation, I pushed harder and played but sadly lost in the final” he recalls.
Dream yet to come true:
He however, noted, “I feel like I still owe myself and the country in general something and God willing I will achieve it before retiring. The dream is nothing but qualifying for Olympic Games and even win a medal.”
Who is Bagabo?
Placide Bagabo was born in Kicukiro District on December 29, 1983 to Athanase Bavugirije and Delphine Murekatete. He is the second born from a family of four children, two boys and two girls.
Bagabo is not married but is a father to a six-year old daughter Louange Tete Inema.
He attended Gahima primary school based in Ngoma district, Eastern Province. He also went to GS Kabare for secondary school where he specialised in Biology and Chemistry (Bio-Chemistry) at A’ level.
He holds a Bachelors degree in Agriculture and Crop Science from the National University of Rwanda, currently University of Rwanda- Huye campus.
The 30-year-old Bagabo, who resides in Gatenga, Kicukiro district says Dr. David Hakizimana is his idol on the local scene while on the international level it is Thailand’s 23-year-old Chanatip Sonkham.
Apart from Taekwondo, Bagabo is also an avid football fan and supports Rayon Sports in Rwanda and Manchester United in the English Premier League.
Source: Richard Bishumba (AllAfrica.com)