Updated 27 March 2008
Dieudonne DISI, Rwanda
(3000, 5000, 10,000, Half Marathon, cross country)
Born: 24 November, 1980.
Place: Nyanzo, Butare, Southern Province, Rwanda.
Height: 1.76m; Weight: 54kg
Residence: Kigali, Rwanda
Manager: Ricky Simms
Coach: Philippe Plancke
During the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, during which he witnessed the murder of his mother and suffered the deaths of several more members of his family, Dieudonne Disi fled alone to Burundi in a bid to escape the gruesome acts. Like most Eastern African youths, his sporting interests began with soccer, and also volleyball, although he did show some early running ability. But he concentrated on athletics only after joining the army, having returned to Rwanda.
When Disi went back to his homeland, he returned to school to study. Then, after entering the military in 2000, winning the World Military Cross Country Championship in 2003 and finishing 30th in 2003 World Cross Country Championships, in Lausanne, his potential was spotted by Benjamin Limo, Kenya’s 2005 world 5000m champion. Limo was impressed with Disi’s brave front running over 10,000m at the 2003 World Military Championships, held in December, in Catania, Italy. Although he finished second, on Limo’s recommendation he was taken on by the London-based coach and manager, Ricky Simms, who invited him to train with top Kenyan athletes in the PACE Management training camp in Kaptagat, Kenya.
Benefiting from their support, Disi won a silver medal at the World Military Cross Country Championships, then finished 18th in the 2004 World Cross Country Championships in Brussels. “I was very pleased with the level of improvement,” he said. “Benjamin Limo promised me that he was going to find me a manager. There was no room for error so I started taking my running more seriously. At the same time, I had the pressure to fit into society. The first time in the cold weather, the situation made me stronger. The running was hard, completely different. I had to do so much in six months.
Disi went on to record personal bests, and his first European victories, at 3000m in Bydgoszcz, Poland (8:04.85) and 5000m in Solihull, England (13:38.12). He also improved his 10,000m time to 28:01.34 in the Hengelo Grand Prix. He led the opening laps of the Olympic Games 10,000m final but faded at the end, eventually, finishing 17th. “That was a shocker,” he said with a laugh. “But I believe there are no limits. I’ll just keep pushing my body to run faster.”
Disi started the 2005 season with victory in the Valladolid cross country race in Spain and had high hopes of a top-10 finish in the World Cross Country Championships in St-Etienne/St-Galmier, France. However, travel and visa problems resulted in the Rwanda team arriving in France only a few hours before the start of the race after spending two days sleeping at Brussels airport. He finished a disappointing 32nd.
After this he took victories in the Rostock 10k and Chemnitz 10k road races and, on the track, won the European Champion Clubs Group B 3000m and 5000m titles in Portugal, competing for the Slovak club, Spartak Dubnica. He competed in the World Championships, in Helsinki, finishing 17th in the 10,000m (27:53.51). Disi ended the year with gold in the Francophone Games 10,000m and bronze in the 5000m where, unimpressed that the organisers did not have his National anthem, he took the microphone and sang it himself. He describes this as one of the proudest moments in his career to date, “This was one of my last meets of the year so I was glad after winning medals at the right time,” said Disi.
In 2006, Disi returned to the Spanish cross country circuit, placing 3rd in both the Haro and Valladolid meets. In the World Cross Country, in Fukuoka, Japan, he started very fast and found himself alone at the front with a 50m lead over the chasing pack after the first 2km. He was later overhauled and, suffering from his early exertions, eventually finished 40th. In September of 2006 Disi made his half marathon debut in Lille, clocking 61:26 for 5th position.
One month later he placed 9th in the World Road Running Championships over 20km in Debrecen and this performance made him start to think that his future lay on the roads. He travelled to Nigeria in November and placed 13th in the Obudu Mountain Race and 3rd in the Lagos half marathon. “I want to collect the title and a win for Rwanda, apart from the war that the Rwanda is known for, the medals are there but people focus on something else,” Disi said before departing for Lagos.
In 2007, having once again prepared for the World Cross Country Championships in the PACE training camp in Kenya, the rapidly improving Rwandan placed 23rd in the heat of Mombasa. He was just outside the medals finishing 4th in the African Games Half Marathon in Alger but later in the year made a breakthrough performance on the track, smashing the National 10,000m record with a time of 27:22.28 in the Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels. On the roads he truly progressed into a world class runner ending the season with excellent victories in the New Delhi Half Marathon, Lagos Half Marathon, Reims Half Marathon, Roanne 10k and placed 6th in a National record 59:32 in the IWorld Half Marathon Championships, in Udine, his first time under the magical one hour barrier.
In an interview with Athletics Weekly, in January 2006, the magazine reported: “It is hard for many Westerners to comprehend what confronted the then 14-year-old Dieudonne Disi in 1994. The tiny east African nation of Rwanda was in the middle of one of the most traumatic episodes of the 20th Century. In the space of 100 days, more than 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were slaughtered in a mass genocide perpetrated by the majority race, the Hutus.
“Disi, a Tutsi, lived in fear of his life. So, to escape almost certain death, he hid in the garden while witnessing the murder of his mother. He was then forced to endure a terrifyingly dangerous 50km journey on foot to safety over the Burundian border.
“Disi was born into a relatively well-to-do family with his eight brothers and two sisters in a small village in southern Rwanda. His mother and father were teachers.
“As the genocide spread the Hutus quickly descended on Disi’s home district of Ntyazo Butare. But, as Disi’s mother and father prayed, the teenager hid in fear. He explains:” As my family was busy praying, I sneaked away and went to hide behind a huge flower in our garden. My mother was the first to be killed and I was watching from where I was hiding. Others were taken and killed. I hid until evening and, when it was dark I started my terrifying journey. I was alone and I knew my parents were killed as well as my eight brothers.”
3000m: 8:04.85 (2004); 8:01.73i (2006)
5000m: 13:38.12 (2004)
10,000m: 27:22.28 (2007)
10k: 28:39 (2007)
20k: 57:42 (2006)
Half Marathon: 59:32 (2007)
3000m: 2004: 8:04.85; 2005: 8:13.33; 2006: 8:01.73i
5000m: 2002: 14:05.58; 2004: 13:38.12; 2005: 14:09.9; 2007: 13:47.30
10,000m: 2002: 29:56.0; 2003: 28:37.69; 2004: 28:01.34; 2005: 27:53.51; 2007: 27:22.28
Half Marathon: 2006: 61:26; 2007: 59:32
2003 1st World Military Cross Country Championships
2004 2nd World Military Cross Country Championships
2004 18th World Cross Country Championships (12k)
2004 4th African Championships (10,000m)
2004 17th Olympic Games (10,000m)
2005 3rd Francophone Games (5000m)
2005 1st Francophone Games (10,000m)
2005 17th World Championships (10,000m)
2006 9th World Road Running Championships (20km)
2007 6th World Road Running Championships
2007 4th All Africa Games (half marathon)
2007 23rd World Cross Country Championships
Prepared by Bonnie Mugabe for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.