Leikun, twenty-five, and Kisanet, nineteen, are national champions aspiring to raise the Eritrean flag in international arenas for badminton.
On today’s very interesting talk, Q&A introduces you to two young sports pro, Leikun Mulgeta Semere and Kisanet Haile Heyelom. Badminton is not a sport Eritrea is known for; nevertheless, it is common to see people playing the game at fitness centers. Not far in the future, that is more likely to change thanks to the determination of the players, their coaches and the Eritrean Sport Federation. Meet Leikun and Kisanet, national champions multiple times and representatives of Team Eritrea in the All Africa Senior Championship 2019. KISANET HAILE HEYELOM
- Thank you for your time. Would you like to first introduce yourself?
Yes, thank you. My name is Kisanet Haile. Born and raised in Keren. I do a lot of sports one of which is badminton.
- What sports do you play besides badminton?
I first wanted to play football and be a professional player. I was young and I loved kicking the ball with my male friends in my neighborhood. Later on, at school, my teacher noticed I was good at it, so he introduced me to a football team and I started playing and practicing with them. Meanwhile, my female friends had started playing badminton and I thought that maybe that was something I could do too. I was captivated by their excitement, so I joined them; I have been playing badminton ever since. That being said I also am fond of cycling, so I joined a professional team for that too. As badminton games are not regular I would train for it but regularly engage in cycling.
There was also a time when I played ground tennis.
- How do you manage to focus on all of these sports?
Somehow I do and I do it well. How, I wouldn’t know how to explain. But I find time for the sports. My mornings are reserved for cycling when it is offseason for badminton. As of late I have focused completely on badminton as I want to grow.
- Do you face any problems while practicing the sports?
I don’t. So far I haven’t faced any major challenges that have kept me from engaging in sports. My family is extremely supportive. They understand what this means to me and they are okay with it. Sometimes it is physically tough to shift from football training to that of cycling, which is why I am focusing more on cycling.
You are so extremely talented that you are a medalist in all of the sports you play.
I am a multiple national champion in badminton, multiple-times nominee for best player in football and I have also conquered multiple medals for my cycling team. I have got several trophies starting from 2013 until now. And last Sunday, May 19th, I was the national champion for the third time in badminton. I simply love being active in sports and whatever sport I took on I reached the professional level. The main reason is because I am passionate about sports. For example, the previous week I took part in a cycling tournament in the Anseba region where I had accumulated enough points for the last stage that coincided with the annual badminton tournament. So I decided to play badminton and luckily I got the trophy, once again, this year too.
- What does sport mean to you?
Life. I would be dead if I weren’t active in sports.
- You are the first female professional badminton player to represent team Eritrea in the All Africa Senior Championship 2019. How did you feel? And how was the game?
I felt great to represent my country. I think we could have gotten to the finals. What we had imagined of the game was way greater to what we found on the ground. What kept us from scoring points were technical problems. We played few hours after our arrival. But from where I see it, I am most certain that we will be able to bring the trophy home next year.
- T h a n k y o u ! Anything you want to say at the end?
I want for badminton to be a game known and played by many. I will work harder and train even more to excel in badminton and make a name for my country through a sport that our country is not yet known for.
LEIKUN MULGETA SEMERE
- Thank you for making time to talk to Q&A!
Pleasure is all mine. Hello Eritrea Profile, my name is Leikun Mulgeta and I am a badminton professional player in Eritrea’s national team. I was born and raised in Asmara in the vicinity of sports ground in downtown Asmara known as Bocciofila. I did a lot of sports growing up for the amusement of myself as a kid.
- How did you get to badminton?
I started playing badminton in 2009, exactly ten years ago, when I was almost fifteen years old. My friends and I picked the badminton racket for fun and then it became a habit, so we went to the gym to play badminton. And it was a lot of fun. By sheer luck some sportsmen and senior badminton professionals saw us and guided us to make our way to the Eritrean Federation of Sport and be known as official players of badminton. At first most of the training and guidance were provided by the individuals themselves but then a whole structure was formed by the federation to accommodate our needs and also the formation of a team that has coaches, instructors and directors. Thanks to the few people that spotted us we are here now.
- Are the young men you met ten years ago in the fitness center still around?
Yes, most of us are still around. Some are still playing. Nahom Ghebrekidan is the president of the Badminton federation and Amanuel Ghebrezighiabiher is now the coach of the national team. As for me I will continue to play.
- When did you start shining outside the arena of the fitness center?
My mates and I, like I told you earlier, were eager to know, learn and practice the sport on international standards, so after 2014 I started competing in big tournaments. I participated in the Central Zone tournament. Every year since then up until 2016 I started getting recognition from the public bit by bit. You climb towards being a champion in small steps. Therefore, it took me a while to get where I am now. In 2016 I was called to take part in team Anberbeb, which is one of the many teams under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense. The first game I played with my team went well for a beginner, but the second game got me my trophy. After that I even gained the confidence to practice the sport with zeal. I learn more with each tournament. Moreover, the federation placed more focus on the game and so much was being done to nourish the game. An example is how my team mate Kisanet Haile got to join the national team. Talented sportsmen were being drawn from all over the country to join the field and were encouraged to excel.
Badminton is something you helped build, having played for ten years from age fifteen up to now. The sport is basically your life story.
It is. However, the merit goes to many people with whom I share the same dream. Everyone, including my fellow players, coaches, presidents and members of the federation joined hands in making badminton a sport through which Eritrea can be represented, and having been here since my teenage years makes the journey one that I cherish and I am proud of.
- Leikun you have won the trophy for national champion in badminton this year as well as last year. Your points got you to represent the national team in the All Africa Senior Championship 2019. How was it?
It was big and it was a game that we could have won had we known better. We got to the tournament right after we landed; we hadn’t had a chance to explore the field and prepare our minds for it. Our team was the last team to arrive. By the time we were escorted to our resting places the rest of the teams had already finished preparing for the game. Also, most of the players were older. But even then we thought we could have made it at least to the finals. Kisanet showed excellent skills. But because I went before her she was frightened a bit.
It must have been disappointing not to win.
Definitely! We are athletes, we play to win. But in all honesty, this time around having our flag raised in a continental arena for the first time was the biggest win. Kisanet and I were proud to have made it so far. Needless to say next year we will get the medals. Now we know how things are and we learn and prepare accordingly. Luckily, Eritreans are keen on sports no matter what sport it is and if I am to talk about the encouragement and love we have been receiving all I can say is that I am grateful beyond words. Our community is proud of us and we, everyone involved in badminton, will do beyond our best to live up to the expectations of our community.
- Thank you, is there anything you want to add before we end?
One note. Badminton is not as big as cycling but I am confident that if we all work together we’ll be able to see the Eritrean flag raised everywhere. For us Eritreans, sport is our way of making our voice heard in the rest of the world. Badminton, too, can be one additional way, so I’d like to remind the Sports Federation and concerned bodies to put more focus on the game. Thank you!