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The story of the first Tanzanian to compete in World Skiing championships

Saturday April 17 2021
Skiing pic

Tanzania’s Nzumbe Nyanduga competes in the Men’s 10km Interval Start Free Qualification Race at the cross-country skiing stadium in Oberstdorf, southern Germany, on February 24, 2021: on the eve of the opening of the 2021 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. PHOTO | AFP

By Josephine Christopher

On February 24, 2021, Nzumbe Nyanduga made history as the first Tanzanian to compete in the World Skiing Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany.

Organized by the Skiing Federation (FIS). Tanzania and Nigeria were the only two African nations which were represented at the Championship.

It was unique for Mr Nyanduga to participate in the skiing which involves racing over snow on skis.

Born on January 29, 1989, the 32-year old who is currently living in the Olympics capital of Lausanne, Switzerland, shared his story in this interview with The Citizen Reporter Josephine Christopher. Read on...


QUESTION: Did you grow up knowing about the skiing sport?

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ANSWER: I grew up in Dar es Salaam, the youngest of four boys, and - like most kids in Tanzania back then - I knew nothing about winter sports, let alone cross-country skiing.

As a kid, I was neither sporty nor athletic. In fact, I never excelled in any physical activity. I spent more time watching sports than practicing them, especially football. I would watch every match on TV, so in that sense I am like most football-loving Tanzanians.

Things changed when I moved to Switzerland in 2014 when I started working for the International Olympic Committee. Being surrounded by former top-level athletes and Olympians slowly rubbed off on me, and I started becoming interested.

It began with lunchtime runs with colleagues, which then turned into a 10km run. The 10km run turned into a half-marathon, and then a full marathon. After a couple of full marathons, I did my first half-Ironman and then a full Ironman in the Triathlon sport.

As my abilities improved and my confidence grew, I took on more and more challenges, once again inspired and encouraged by the training I was doing with my mates in Lausanne.

I only began dreaming of cross-country skiing following the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Because Tanzania has never been represented at the Winter Olympics was extra motivation for me. Once I realized that there are a lot of cross-country skiing areas close to Lausanne and that I could get help from former cross-country Olympians who also happened to be friends, well, the choice to go all in and chase the dream became an easy one to make.


Why did you decide to enter the World Competition?

To qualify for the Winter Olympics, competing at and obtaining a certain score at the Ski World Championships is mandatory. Unfortunately, I missed the Olympic qualification time by four minutes.

Nevertheless, it was still a great experience to compete against the best skiers in the world. I will continue racing and hopefully try to make the next Winter Olympic Games in Milano-Cortina in 2026.


How many other competitions have you been a part of?

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in late 2019, many FIS (Federation Internatione du Ski/International Ski Federation) races were cancelled. The few that remained were difficult to get to due to travel restrictions and strict participation criteria. So, I was only able to attend one FIS race in Campra, Switzerland, where I did well enough to qualify for the World Championships. Aside from that, I’ve done a number of local and regional races.


How is the support - if any - from the Tanzanian government?

The Ministry of Sports and the Tanzanian Olympic Committee helped establish a National Ski Federation and get it recognized by FIS. This was the important first step we needed to be able to participate at FIS events. As a result of this, there is now an opportunity and a pathway for other Tanzanians living abroad to pick up competitive skiing and represent the country at the world stage.


What are the challenges in your journey?

Learning anything from scratch, especially at an older age, is very challenging. I only picked up cross-country skiing competitively in 2019 and in that short time I had to make a lot of sacrifices to come to grips with the sport. This included getting used to being outside for hours in cold temperatures and learning how to manage the steep downhill and long uphill’s. The challenges were many and they still are, I’ve only just begun the journey and have a lot to improve on to be a competitive skier.

In addition, I still work full time, so balancing work and training has been very challenging, but you just find ways to make it work. If it means waking up early or working late, you always find the time to fit it all in. Work always takes priority because ultimately the job is what pays the bills and skiing is just a fun hobby.

Speaking of money, lack of sponsorship is another big challenge. Manage to get an equipment sponsor, which helped a lot, otherwise I’ve had to rely on self-funding to cover training camps, travel, etc.


Apart from skiing, are you involved in other sports?

A far cry from my childhood, it seems that every year I pick up a new sport. Lately, I have been doing a lot of running and biking. I also enjoy Alpine skiing every winter; soccer and basketball with friends.


Your professional background?

Sports Management. I work at the International Olympic Committee within its knowledge management team. I help deliver various transfer-of-knowledge activities aimed at helping future Games organisers plan and deliver their editions of the Olympics. I am currently working with Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, Paris 2024, Milano-Cortina 2026 and Los Angeles 2028.


Have you been awarded or recognized in your activities?

I became the first Tanzanian to compete at a FIS race - and also the first one to take part in a Ski World Championship. I was also the first Tanzanian to do the Ironman Triathlon race (3.9km swim, 180km biking, 42.2km run). I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro twice - although I’m not sure that counts as an award (chuckles) - once in 2011 then 2017, when I brought friends from abroad to Tanzania to climb Africa’s highest mountain - and also the world’s highest stand-alone mountain!

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