Rwanda's joy at beach volleyball triumph

·3-min read

In the middle of England, in the middle of Birmingham, in the middle of office blocks, nowhere near the sea, there's a beach volleyball court.

In the middle of the court is Olivier Ntagengwa.

He's from Rwanda, near the middle of Africa. And Ntagengwa is in the middle of one of the greatest moments of his life.

Ntagengwa's knees sink into the middle of the sandy court, then he bends at the midriff. He's in the middle of celebrating.

Ntagengwa's beach volleyball partner Venuste Gatsinzi joins him.

The Rwandans embrace after their 21-18 21-19 victory. They scream in joy. They have just beaten New Zealand in a Commonwealth Games quarter-final.

The Kiwis, Sam O'Dea and Brad Fuller, won bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

But on the sand in Birmingham, in the middle of a city about two hours from the ocean, the Kiwis can't counter a Rwandan duo making their Games debut.

"This is a special moment ... you have to celebrate. If we win, you have to celebrate happiness," Ntagengwa said minutes later, still in the middle of the buzz of victory.

"We are very happy for being in the semi-finals.

"This our first time coming to Commonwealth Games beach volleyball. And somehow, we be in semi-finals. This is incredible."

Ntagengwa's pal Gatsinzi isn't confident enough in his English to speak. But his wide smile says it all.

The pair train at Rwanda's one beach volleyball court, located near Lake Kivu, one of the Great African Lakes on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"We don't have a lot of facilities," Ntagengwa said.

"We only have one court from the western province where there is Lake Kivu. But it is a good court.

"We don't have a lot of courts in Rwanda. But sure we know how to use them."

So just how did Ntagengwa, 29, and Gatsinzi, 24, get from the middle of a landlocked Africa county to the middle of the landlocked city of Birmingham.

"In Rwanda, you start by playing indoor volleyball," Ntagengwa said.

"Then, if they see that you have qualities, a lot of qualities, sometimes you can shift to beach volleyball.

"But for us two, we played indoor volleyball for so many years.

"This is where we got the experience to play with big teams.

"We are not afraid of big teams."

There is no bigger team than Australia, the reigning Commonwealth champions. The Aussies just happen to be Rwanda's semi-final opponent.

Australia's Chris McHugh, who won gold on the Gold Coast four years, said Rwanda's progress into the semi-finals was a remarkable achievement.

"It's massive for the sport, it's massive for beach volleyball in Africa, it's massive for those boys," McHugh said.

"It's a real credit to them that they have come so far in a short time.

"But also it shows the beauty of the Commonwealth Games.

"It's an opportunity for them to represent their country which has obviously been through a lot over the years.

"For them to come out and represent their country with such pride, and deliver on the big stage, is such a credit to them."

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