Eritrea’s Cycling Success: Credit Where It’s Due

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By Bereket Kidane,

WHAT a week it has been. It’s been an unforgettable two weeks of July so far. Eritreans around the world were captivated by the performance of their riders on the Grand Tour of cycling and all the coverage they were receiving by the international media for being trail blazers.

A certain reporter for the Washington Post, Adam Taylor, who has never been to Eritrea, tried to argue that Eritrean athletes had become world class athletes not because of the support they received from the Government of Eritrea but in spite of it. Say what!

Let’s get it straight Mr. Taylor. There are many reasons why Eritrean riders are enjoying a lot of success in international competitions and why cycling as a sport is popular in Eritrea. To name a few: Eritrea has bike friendly cities, love of sporting culture in general, great weather, and an investment in the sport by the Government of Eritrea. Without the moral and financial support from the Government of Eritrea as well as an investment in the sport by the Government of Eritrea, it is hard to imagine how Eritrean riders from modest backgrounds like Daniel ‘Teklepolkadot’ could achieve the success that they have.

It was good of Mr. Taylor, however, to mention that Eritrea was the only one of its neighbors to achieve the UN Millenium Development Goals related to health and living standards. Surprise, surprise! Health, nutrition, and sports training go hand in hand when it comes to athletic achievement. Health and food security have always been at the top of the Government of Eritrea’s priorities and its overall bottom-up approach to development. The results are starting to speak for themselves.

Cycling is a grueling sport. It requires a lot of training, discipline, hard work, stamina, endurance and teamwork. It turns out that the very character traits that have been attributed to Eritreans over the years are ones that are required to be successful in professional cycling.

There were many great cycling legends in Eritrea from the past decades who were denied glory on the international stage because of Eritrea’s status in Ethiopian politics. The current cyclists of Eritrea are beneficiaries of the fruits of independence.

First and foremost, credit goes to those terrific world class Eritrean athletes that are making it happen. But it would be foolish for people like Mr. Taylor to argue that Eritrean athletes would have attained the level of success they have without some investment in the sport by the Government of Eritrea. After all, who maintains the road that the athletes train on? Who provides the infrastructure and equipment for training? Who organizes the sporting competitions? I could go on and on.

Eritrean President with the Eritrean Champions of the 7th African Continental Championship in 2011
Eritrean President during the award ceremony with the Eritrean Champions of the 7th African Continental Championship in 2011. Each rider gets prize money equivalent to US $7,000 while the Cycling Federation which is tasked to promote cycling in all regions of Eritrea gets US $75,000
History of Cycling race in Eritrea
1910 :Bicycle was introduced to Eritrea by an Italian soldier
1936 :Cycling Commission of Eritrea dominated by Italians was founded
1937 :The first cycling race event was in Asmara, Eritrea
1937 :Eritrea's indigenous cycling team was founded supported by local folks
1939 :Eritrean cyclists were allowed to participate with the Italian cyclists in local events
1939 :Eritrean Ghebremariam Gebru won the first cycling championship cup in Eritrea
1946 : First Tour of Eritrea cycling championship was conducted
1951 : Cyclists from Eritrea founded team named "Africa"
1951 :Weldemicael Weldemariam (Berbere) from Eritrea won annual championship event
1952-1966 :Annual events of cycling races were held with tough rivalry & competition among local & Italian cyclists in Eritrea
1956 :Two cyclists from Eritrea participated in Melbourne Olympics
1960 :Two cyclists from Eritrea participated in Rome Olympics
1964 :Four cyclists from Eritrea participated in Tokyo Olympics
1968 :Tekeste Weldu (Gigante) was Eritrea's first cycling professional to race international
1968 :Four cyclists from Eritrea participated in Mexico Olympics
1972 :Two cyclists from Eritrea participated in Munich Olympics
2012 :Daniel Teclehaimanot from Eritrea participated in London Olympics : a rebirth of cycling sport in Eritrea
2013 :Natnael Berhane from Eritrea was the first African to win Tour of Turkey
2014 :Natnael Berhane from Eritrea becomes the first African to win Tropicale African Bongo 2014
2015 :More than 16 Eritrean cyclists have gone professional
July 4th, 2015 :Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus becomes the first Eritreans as well as the first black African to compete at the Tour de France
.... ( courtesy of Ambassador Estifanos @AmbassadorEstif )