Gold medalist in 1996 in Atlanta in the 5000m, Burundian Venuste Niyongabo, who could have run for Italy, admits having secured his future thanks to his performances on the track.
Venuste Niyongabo, how did you feel after winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1996?
Participating in the Olympics for the first time and winning a gold medal is a very important choice. When I stepped on the podium and the national anthem of our pay held up, I felt more patriotic than before. It’s etched in my memory. In 1994, I train in Italy. The sports authorities of this country approached me to take Italian nationality. But, I refused and I do not regret. I ran for Burundi but frankly I did not gain much from my country since it is poor. What makes me proud is that I am respected in my country. I don’t think it would be the same if I had raced for Italy.
What were the repercussions, popular, financial, of your medal?
Most people don’t like to answer this kind of question. For me, however, there is no problem. I left Vugizo (southern Burundi) poor, since my parents were not at all rich. In Italy, where I live, I am neither poor nor rich. But my children are comfortable and I have more than two houses in Europe. I did 5 years of high level competition and what I won may be enough for the rest of my life. I therefore encourage young people to devote themselves to sport body and soul to prepare for their future.
Vénuste Niyongabo, gold medalist at the 1996 Olympic Games
What happened to the bib, shoes and outfit you wore when you won gold in Atlanta?
I was single when I won the gold medal in Atlanta. Fortunately, I got married and my wife helped me tidy up my things. I jealously keep the bib, the outfit I was wearing and the shoes.
The synthetic track we ran on was destroyed but I was sent part of this track. I also keep it at home. I don’t have an Olympic museum at home, but I have used every item I used during the Atlanta Olympics. They are installed on the wall in my house. My visitors do not have to ask me who I am, they discover based on these objects.
Apart from that, I kept all the outfits that I used during all the competitions. Today, I notice that winning a gold medal at the Olympics is not enough. Each time you have to ask yourself the question of what to do after these games.
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