When 15-year-old Alphonsine Agahozo swims at the London Olympics next month, she will be the pride of her father and of her landlocked African nation.
Dad Alphonse Twagirimana, a swimming instructor for 30 years but now unemployed, began teaching her to swim when she was three and will now watch to see how years of hard work pay off in her 50m freestyle heats on August 3.
“I realised she would go far as a swimmer when she was just six years old,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Agahozo, who secured her place through one of two guaranteed places given to each national Olympic committee in swimming, knows she has a lot of work to do since her personal best of 30.2 seconds is far below the world record of 23.73 seconds.
“I am competing against all the world… but I have experience competing in different events so I think I will be OK,” she told Reuters at the national Amahoro stadium in Kigali.
Agahozo trained for years in a small outdoor pool at her local sports centre before winning a scholarship to study and train in France last year.
She is broad shouldered and strong but otherwise looks like any other girl of her age.
“It’s not Rwanda’s first time to be represented at the Olympics in swimming but what makes us so proud is that we are represented by such a talented young woman,” said Samuel Kinimba Ufitimana, president of the Rwandan Swimming Federation.
“We call Rwanda the ‘land of 1,000 hills’ and because of that we also have lots of lakes. Those small lakes can help us in teaching swimming.”
The swimmer’s big break came when she competed in the Rwandan national swimming championships in Butare in 2009 aged 12 and won her race, Ufitimana said.
Agahozo has three years left of her scholarship in France.
After that she hopes to go to university to study medicine, while still working on her swimming.