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Sport is Part of branding the Nation

With the three-day long commemoration of Fenkil Operation in Massawa, February is a sensational month for Eritreans. It is both historic and lively because of the several sport events scheduled for Eritrean athletes in the country and abroad. Fenkil Half Marathon will see which athletes will run in Valencia World Half Marathon Championship.

Moreover, at a regional level, Massawa is also featuring beach volley ball, football, as well as cycling tournaments. Still in Massawa, at a National Level, car and motor races have gathered fans of engine races in the port city. And last but not least swimming is a big part, only of course. Massawa’s most animated season is no other than the season of its liberation; February.

As February is being the most vivacious season in sport, at the same time, the National Cycling Team is busy preparing for the African Continental Championship. The Eritrean Cycling National Team is the real powerhouse of riding in Africa. We dare to say so based on the past seven consecutive wins, every time they joined the African Continental Championship, they went up to the podium. The young boys and girls of the Eritrean Cycling National Team are prominent in the cycling history of Africa. Setting good records since they recently joined international races, they have become stars of cycling doing wonders not only in national arenas but also in international podiums. Eritrea has been shinning and getting a lot of international attention in the competitive cycling scene, thanks to famous Eritrean champions.

Eritrean champions are also famous outside the National Team as many UCI world tour teams set their eyes on Eritrean riders to ride for them, and on the way, gaining the ardent ‘fan-ship’ of Eritrean cycling fanatics. Dimension Data, is for example, one of the teams which over the years got the love of Eritrean cycling fans due to the presence of Daniel Teklehaimanot, Merhawi Kudus, Natnael Brhane, Mekseb Debessai and others in the team.

But the real deal for the avid Eritrean fans is the African Continental Championship. Why? Because, yes, Eritrean fans do great in supporting teams of which Eritrean cyclist wear uniforms of, but then again, nothing beats the feeling of seeing all of the big names playing in one team, in one uniform and for one goal. Undeniably, out of all the teams the National Team has the biggest supporting system. They are the largely loved ones.

And once more this year, too, Eritrean fans are expecting further achievements from the National Team in the African Continental Championships. After all, after seven consecutive wins, it is easier to predict one more.

All the way on the icy parts of our world the first Eritrean Winter Olympian is ready to skate and impress! Shannon Ogbani will be the first Eritrean Winter Olympian. It is incredible how a sub Saharan country’s flag is waving at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongyang.

I say sport is indeed part of branding the Nation. Eritrean athletes make sure they never fail at it no matter where they are.

  • Team Eritrea Names Strong Line-Up for African Continental Road Championships

African Cycling powerhouse, the Eritrean National Cycling Team has named a star-studded final squad to compete at the 14th edition of annual UCI Africa Continental Road Championships slated for February 13-18 in Rwanda. The Eritrean Cycling Federation released the squad on Monday night, which is composed of 17 riders, including eight U23 and elite riders, four elite female riders, one junior female rider and four junior male riders.

The 2016 African Cyclist of the year, Tesfom Okubamariam, 26, who is one of the start riders to watch, will lead the 8-man roster for Eritrean U23 and elite riders. The two-time( 2014 & 2016) champion in Elite Men’s Road, Tesform will be the first to win the highly rated accolade three times if he claims the title in Rwanda.

Only he and compatriot Natnael Berhane (2011 & 2012) have won it more than once.

The 8-rider roster of star cyclists on the continent also includes Mekseb Debesay and Amanuel Gebrezgabiher who ride for Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s UCI World Tour Team, Meron Teshome of Germany’s Bike Aid and Eyob Metkel who finished second in the last two editions of Tour du Rwanda, first in 2016 behind Valens Ndayisenga and last November, 28 seconds behind Joseph Areruya.

Other cyclists on the squad are; Elyas Afewerki who finished 5th at the 2016 Tour Du Rwanda, Henok Muluberhan, and Simon Mussie.

Mekseb Debesay,Amanuel Gebrezgabiher, Metkel Eyob and Simon Mussie will represent Eritrea in Team Time Trial (TTT) on February 14 before Mekseb Debesay and Amanuel Gebrezgabiher return in action the following day in Individual Time Trial, ITT.

The Elite women’s line-up is made up of Mosana Debesay, Wahazit Kidane, Bisrat Gebremeskel and Tigsti Geberihiwet. The sole representative in women’s junior category is Desite Kidane.

Eritrean riders have had the Team Time Trial (TTT) for a record seven consecutive times since 2011.

Since its inception in 2001, Eritrea has won more medals in African Continental Road Championships than the rest of other African countries combined.

  • Eritrea’s first Winter Olympian is from Alberta: Shannon-Ogbani Abeda

Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, by parents who immigrated from Eritrea, skier Shannon- Ogbani Abeda’s Olympic dreams are about to come true. Shannon- Ogbani Abeda will soon don a ski suit hued with the vibrant colors of the Eritrean flag as the country makes its Winter Olympic debut this February.

Born and raised in Alberta by immigrant parents from the Eritrea, the 21-year-old has spent most of his life nestled in the Rocky Mountains and grew up barreling down its powder-white slopes.

Although oceans away from the native land his father and mother fled in the early 1980s when they went to Canada as refugees, the computer science student says he wears both national identities with pride.

“I have grown up here with a lot of friends who are Canadian but I also have that connection inside to who I am as an Eritrean,” says the Calgary-based Abeda, who made the decision to compete for his parents’ birth country in 2011. “I’ve been very humbled by the response and support I’ve received, especially from the Eritrean- Canadian community. They look up to me and I never imaged myself being in that position.”

It has been an arduous journey for the second-generation Canadian, who first came onto the world stage at 16 years old, representing Eritrea at the 2012 Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. He says that event opened his eyes to the level of international competition he’d be facing.

After overcoming the disappointment of not qualifying for the Sochi Games in 2014, a knee injury a year ago put Abeda’s 2018 Olympic dream in jeopardy. Due to the physical and mental tolls of the injury, he says he went through a period of uncertainty about his future in the sport, but he managed to persevere.

Known mostly in sport for the Summer Olympic disciplines of distance running and cycling, Eritrea was an Italian colony before being annexed by Ethiopia in the 1950s. The nation regained its independence in 1991 and made its Olympic debut in 2000. It won its sole medal in 2004 when runner Zersenay Tadese captured bronze in the men’s 10,000 metres.

Abeda says his parents have been a constant source of support, assuring him that although this marks a significant moment in their country’s history, it’s primarily a personal victory for him as an athlete.

For Abeda’s mother, Ariam, and father, Walday, having a son compete for a country rattled by war and still so close to their hearts in some ways brings the Calgary family’s story full circle.

“Eritreans have gone through 30 years of war where a lot of people lost their lives,” says Walday, an engineer working in the Alberta oil and gas industry. “Now with Eritrea being its own country, our children and our grandchildren can represent it. That’s good for Eritrea and also for other first- and second-generation immigrants who might be encouraged to get involved in winter sports. We’re looking forward to Shannon inspiring kids from other nations that don’t have snow to dream that they can represent their country of birth or their parents’ country and we’re excited about that.”

“The goal will be to make the final, it will be a difficult task but definitely possible” Helmut Spiegl, Shannon’s coach says with the conviction of the now-healthy who skier should still have a strong showing when he hits the slopes in South Korea.

Born in Austria, Spiegl has lived in Canada for 35 years and has coached for both the Canadian and Australian national teams. He has worked with Abeda for the last five years and says the two have developed a strong bond.” A very exciting moment for us was going to an Eritrean tailor in Calgary to get measured for our Eritrean traditional outfits,” says Spiegl who is scheduled to march with Shannon under the Eritrean flag during the parade of nations at the Games’ opening ceremony. “I’ve known the Abeda family for many years now and we’ve grown close. For me to be a part of this occasion is going to feel very special.”

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