Home > News > Media IOC News > Vénuste Niyongabo on how to become a legend in one's country

IOC Latest News

Options

Vénuste Niyongabo on how to become a legend in one's country

Vénuste Niyongabo on how to become a legend in one's country
©IOC

02/05/2014

“I was pretty sure I would finish at least third in the 1,500m, but I didn’t want to do all that work just to get a bronze medal at the Olympic Games. I wanted to be in with a chance of winning gold – that’s how you become a legend in your country. And that’s why I decided to compete in the 5,000m,” says Vénuste Niyongabo, recalling his remarkable victory on the track in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Stadium.

On Saturday 3 August 1996, the Burundian athlete chose to remain in the pack for the majority of the Olympic 5,000m final. During the penultimate lap, he manoeuvred his way to the front, and as the bell sounded he put in a burst of acceleration that would prove decisive. Crossing the finish line in 13:07.96 ahead of Kenya’s Paul Bitok (13:08.16) and Morroco’s Khalid Boulami (13:08.37), he became his country’s first ever, and thus far only, Olympic medallist. Remarkably, it was only the third time that he had competed on the international stage over that distance.

Born in the village of Vugizo near Lake Tanganyika, Niyongabo initially made his mark over 800m and 1,500m. At the 1992 IAAF World Junior Championships in Seoul, he finished fourth in the 800m and second in the 1,500m. The following year, the young African took part in the senior IAAF World Championships, where he reached the semi-finals of the 1,500m. He would go on to become one of the top runners on the planet at that distance, winning the illustrious IAAF meet in Oslo in 1995 with a time of 3:30.78, the best in the world that year, and taking bronze behind Nourredine Morceli (ALG) and Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR) at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg (SWE).

In the run-up to the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Niyongabo was generally regarded as one of the favourites for the 1,500m, but privately he viewed his chances of success as remote, given that the field included leading lights of the track such as Morceli, El Guerrouj, defending champion Fermin Cacho and the formidable Kenyan trio of Stephen Kipkorir, Lucas Rotich and Moses Tanui. He therefore opted to forego his favoured event, instead setting his sights on the 5,000m, in which he felt the possibility of success was higher. As he pulled away from his adversaries in the closing stages of the race, roared on by the 80,000-strong crowd, the astuteness of that decision became clear. “I chose to switch distances, and I achieved a memorable and historic victory for my country,” explains Niyongabo in our exclusive video.

Discover the best photos of Nanjing 2014

  • Watanabe Ippei of Japan in Men's 200m Breaststroke

    Nanjing 2014 - Watanabe Ippei of Japan competes during men's 200m breaststroke final event at Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, Aug. 20, 2014. Watanabe won the gold medal.

  • Players from China after the Women Bronze Medal Match of Rugby Sevens

    Nanjing 2014 -Players from China celebrate after winning the women bronze medal match of rugby sevens against the United States at Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, Aug. 20, 2014. China won the bronze medal.

  • Medalists of Women's 200m Freestyle

    Nanjing 2014 - Gold medalist Shen Duo (C) of People's Republic of China, silver medalist Qiu Yuhan (L)of People's Republic of China and bronze medalist Brianna Throssell of Australia on the podium during the awarding ceremony of Women's 200m freestyle of Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, on August 20, 2014. 

  • Shen Duo of People's Republic of China in the final of Women's 200m Freestyle

    Nanjing 2014 - Shen Duo of People's Republic of China competes during the final of Women's 200m freestyle of Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, on August 20, 2014. Shen Duo won the gold.

  • Medalists of Women's 50m Butterfly

    Nanjing 2014 - Gold medalist Rozaliya Nasretdinova(C) of Russian Federation, silver medalist Svenja Stoffel(L) of Switzerland and bronze medalist Nastja Govejsek of Slovenia on the podium during the awarding ceremony of the Women's 50m Butterfly Final match of the swimming event at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, on August 20, 2014. 

  • Medalists of the Women's 63-kg Taekwondo

    Nanjing 2014 - Gold medalist Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin(2nd L) of Iran, silver medalist Yulia Turutina(1st L) of Russia Federation and bronze medalist Zhangchen of China(1st R), Debbie Natalia Yopasa Gomes of Colombia on the podium during the awarding ceremony of the women's 63-kg taekwondo event at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, on August 20, 2014.

FEATURED NEWS