Francine NIYONSABA

Athlete Profile

  • COUNTRY
    Burundi Burundi
  • DATE OF BIRTH
    05 MAY 1993
    ATHLETE'S IAAF CODE
    273769
Francine Niyonsaba wins the 800m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 (Getty Images)

Outdoor

Discipline Performance Wind Place Date Records
400 Metres 53.48 Eugene, OR (USA) 04 MAY 2018
600 Metres 1:23.18 Berlin (GER) 27 AUG 2017
800 Metres 1:55.47 Monaco (MON) 21 JUL 2017

Legend

* Not legal.

Indoor

Discipline Performance Wind Place Date Records
800 Metres 1:58.31 Birmingham (GBR) 04 MAR 2018

Legend

* Not legal.

Outdoor

Discipline Performance Wind Place Date Records
400 Metres 53.48 Eugene, OR (USA) 04 MAY 2018
800 Metres 1:55.86 Paris (FRA) 30 JUN 2018

Indoor

Discipline Performance Wind Place Date Records
800 Metres 1:58.31 Birmingham (GBR) 04 MAR 2018

Outdoor

400 Metres

Performance Place Date
2018 53.48 Eugene, OR (USA) 04 MAY 2018

Outdoor

600 Metres

Performance Place Date
2017 1:23.18 Berlin (GER) 27 AUG 2017

Outdoor

800 Metres

Performance Place Date
2018 1:55.86 Paris (FRA) 30 JUN 2018
2017 1:55.47 Monaco (MON) 21 JUL 2017
2016 1:56.24 Monaco (MON) 15 JUL 2016
2015 1:57.62 Rieti (ITA) 13 SEP 2015
2013 1:56.72 Eugene, OR (USA) 01 JUN 2013
2012 1:56.59 Bruxelles (BEL) 07 SEP 2012

Indoor

800 Metres

Performance Place Date
2017/18 1:58.31 Birmingham (GBR) 04 MAR 2018
2015/16 2:00.01 Portland, OR (USA) 20 MAR 2016

Honours - Olympic Games

Place Discipline Mark Wind Place Date
2. 800 Metres 1:56.49 Rio de Janeiro (BRA) 20 AUG 2016
5. 800 Metres 1:59.63 London (GBR) 11 AUG 2012

Honours - World Championships

Place Discipline Mark Wind Place Date
2. 800 Metres 1:55.92 London (GBR) 13 AUG 2017

Honours - World Indoor Championships

Place Discipline Mark Wind Place Date
1. 800 Metres 1:58.31 Birmingham (GBR) 04 MAR 2018
1. 800 Metres 2:00.01 Portland, OR (USA) 20 MAR 2016

Honours - African Championships

Place Discipline Mark Wind Place Date
1. 800 Metres 1:59.11 Porto Novo (BEN) 01 JUL 2012

Honours - Diamond League

Place Discipline Mark Wind Place Date
1. 800 Metres 1:57.90 Rabat (MAR) 13 JUL 2018
1. 800 Metres 1:57.80 Lausanne (SUI) 05 JUL 2018
1. 800 Metres 1:56.82 Lausanne (SUI) 06 JUL 2017
1. 800 Metres 1:59.11 Stockholm (SWE) 18 JUN 2017
1. 800 Metres 1:57.71 Lausanne (SUI) 25 AUG 2016
1. 800 Metres 1:56.92 Birmingham (GBR) 05 JUN 2016
1. 800 Metres 1:57.26 Paris (FRA) 06 JUL 2013
1. 800 Metres 1:56.72 Eugene, OR (USA) 01 JUN 2013
1. 800 Metres 2:00.33 Shanghai (CHN) 18 MAY 2013
1. 800 Metres 1:56.59 Bruxelles (BEL) 07 SEP 2012
Results in:

400 Metres

Date Competition Cnt. Cat Race Pl. Result
04 MAY 2018 Eugene Oregon Twilight USAUSA F F2 2. 53.48

800 Metres

Date Competition Cnt. Cat Race Pl. Result
12 MAY 2018 Baie Mahault Meeting International Guadeloupe FRAFRA E F 1. 2:01.97
26 MAY 2018 Eugene Prefontaine Classic USAUSA GW F 3. 1:56.88
07 JUN 2018 Oslo Bislett Games NORNOR GW F 2. 1:58.57
19 JUN 2018 Montreuil Meeting Elite FRAFRA C F 1. 1:59.71
30 JUN 2018 Paris Meeting FRAFRA GW F 2. 1:55.86
05 JUL 2018 Lausanne Athletissima SUISUI GW F 1. 1:57.80
13 JUL 2018 Rabat Meeting International Mohammed VI D'Athletisme MARMAR GW F 1. 1:57.90
20 JUL 2018 Monaco Herculis MONMON GW F 2. 1:55.96
30 AUG 2018 Zürich Weltklasse SUISUI DF F 6. 1:59.11

800 Metres Indoor

Date Competition Cnt. Cat Race Pl. Result
03 MAR 2018 Birmingham IAAF World Indoor Championships GBRGBR GW H3 1. 2:00.99
04 MAR 2018 Birmingham IAAF World Indoor Championships GBRGBR GW F 1. 1:58.31

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Compiled 19 July 2016

 

Francine NIYONSABA, Burundi (800m)

 

Born 5 May 1993, Nkanda Bweru (Burundi)

Coach: Mark Rowland

 

Francine Niyonsaba was born in Nkanda Bweru, Kayongozi zone, in the hills of Ruyigi province, about 200km east from Burundi’s capital Bujumbura, near the Tanzanian border. The main activity of the region is subsistence farming. A thirteen year long civil war broke out in Burundi a few months after Francine’s birth. While casualties may not have been as high as in other areas, the region wasn’t spared from ethnic tensions and violence. A fatherless child, Francine was raised by her mother Domithile Niyokwizigira - a farmer - and by her grand-parent. She had a brother who died at an early age and a younger sister was born years later, in 2004.

 

Despite her family’s modest resources, Francine was still able to attend secondary school, where she was introduced to athletics and interschool competitions. Sports teacher Angelus Ngendakumana entered her for the first time in 2007 in provincial games in Ruyigi, where she distinguished herself in the 200m and 400m. She would then become a regular representative of her school at the provincial and national levels. In 2008, she made her first trip to the national event in Bujumbura. In 2009 in Kamenge, she did not make an impression, but the following year in Gitega, she won the 400m. “Sometimes I would win, sometimes I would lose. But I did not get discouraged and kept training for the next competitions. I told myself: They won today, I will win tomorrow.”

 

Francine’s mother was originally reluctant about her daughter’s participation in sport, wishing she would only focus on her studies, but she did not need much convincing to change her mind, as she also had been running during her time at school. “Our neighbours who knew her then told me that I have inherited her talent, which I am proud of” Francine said.

 

In the 2010-2011 school year, another sports teacher, Aloys Hatungimana helped Francine to enrol as a boarder at Vugizo high school in the capital Bujumbura, but the teenager, who was so active in sports and also played with the basketball and volleyball teams, did not manage to fit in in the all-girls urban school and returned to Kayongozi the following year. Hatungimana also suggested the young athlete to give it a try on the 800m. In 2011, she finished second of the 800m at the East Africa Secondary Schools Championships in Mbarara (Uganda).

 

Francine Niyonsaba’s early career benefited from the support of local Member of Parliament Gabriel Ndoricimpa, a former athlete himself, who followed her performance at the provincial interschool championships. He assisted with transportation and sometimes accommodation to facilitate travel to Bujumbura for national events. Other times, she was hosted by the family of a schoolmate from Vugizo high school.

 

She was able to take part in a series of three meets organised in the spring of 2012 by the Association Municipale d’Athlétisme de Bujumbura (AMABU), an association set up by former 800m specialist Dieudonné Kwizera to detect new talents. The biggest revelation of the meets turned out to be no one else than Francine. She claimed the 400m-800m in each of the meets, lowering her personal best and the national record race after race. She clocked 59:4 and 2:09.1 on 30 March -1 April, 2:07:0 on 22 April and 2:06:0 on 13 May. She then got the opportunity to compete at the John Akii-Bua Memorial, in Uganda, where she slashed almost another four seconds off her previous best, claiming the win in 2:02.29 on 2 June.

 

The next outing of the season was the African Championships in Porto-Novo, Benin, at the end of June. Francine Niyonsaba landed there as an unknown quantity to become an overnight sensation, leaving observers stunned by both her huge potential and total lack of experience. She won her heat in 2:02.13 having run the whole race in lane two. Standing out from the competition, in a vest slightly too large for her, the head tilted backwards, and her right hand hitting her shoulder at each stride, the teenager didn’t make the same mistake in the final. Taking the lead and running neck to neck with more experienced athletes like Kenya’s Eunice Sum and Morocco’s Malika Akkaoui, she managed to hold off her opponents in a thrilling finish that saw her clinch the second gold ever for Burundi and the first one by a female athlete at the African Championships. Pushed hard by Eunice Sum, who finished two hundredths of a second behind her, Niyonsaba also recorded her first time below two minutes (1:59:11), beating the qualifying standard for the Olympic Games.

 

Niyonsaba’s African title on 1 July brought a lot of pride in Burundi, as it happened on the very same day the country celebrated 50 years of independence.  On 9 July, she was received in audience by President Pierre Nkurunziza who expressed his support ahead the London Olympic Games.

 

After her triumph in Africa, the young runner emerged on the world scene, finishing second at the Monaco Diamond League meeting in 1:58.68 behind Russia’s Yelena Kofanova. Making her first Olympic appearance in only her fourth event abroad, she successfully manoeuvred through the rounds, winning her heat in 2:07.57 and taking the second spot in her semi in 1:58:67, another national record. However, she couldn’t fulfill her medal ambitions in the final. Running with a strap on the back of her left thigh due to a muscle pull, Francine was dropped by the fast pace after 600m and finished seventh of the race in 1:59.63 (subsequently upgraded to sixth as a result of Elena Arzhakova's disqualification).

 

Overcoming her disappointment, she distinguished herself on the international circuit during the post-Olympic meets, finishing second in Berlin (1:58.78) before claiming victory in Brussels (1:56.59) and Rieti (1:57.65), defeating Olympic champion Mariya Savinova thanks to solid front running in both events. Her time in Brussels, another national record by two seconds, was the second fastest time in the world in 2012. The 19-year old then returned home to start her final high school year at Lycée Scheppers in Bujumbura, where she could combine her training and her studies.

 

In 2013, she started the season with an impressive display of form, claiming victory in the three Diamond League events she took part in: Shanghai (2:00.33), Eugene (1:56.72) and Paris Saint-Denis (1:57.26). The holder of the fastest time of the season, she was deemed a favourite for the World Championships in Moscow. But she suffered a hamstring injury in training and had to pull out from the championships barely a few days before competition.

 

Following her high school graduation, Francine left Burundi for the USA in January 2014 to start studies in California thanks to a scholarship funded by her sponsor Nike. However the experience did not last very long and Francine found herself back home in inadequate conditions for high level training.

 

In January 2015, she was offered a place at the High Performance Training Center of Eldoret in Kenya, where she worked under Jimmy Beauttah to get back in shape. In the first months, she recorded times around 2:10 in local meets. She finished tenth at the Kenyan national championships in Nairobi on 11 July (2:07.9) before dropping her time to 2:05:45 at Uganda’s national championships a week later. Two months later, in a better shape, she made her return to Europe taking part in two meets that she both won: Padova on 6 September (1:59.62) and Rieti on 13 September (1:57.62), making her the fourth fastest performer of the season.

 

Back among the world elite, Francine moved a second time to the United States with the support of Nike in January 2016 to prepare for the Olympic year.  She was enrolled in the Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene to train under coach Mark Rowland (a bronze medalist in the 3000m steeplechase for Great Britain at the 1988 Olympic Games). With less than 200km to travel from Eugene, Francine was almost a local athlete at the World Indoor Championships held mid-March in Portland. Despite having no indoor experience, she took a commanding win in the heats in 2:02.37. In the final, she took up the running at the front at the end of the second lap and did not get caught, clinching Burundi’s first World Indoor title in 2:00.01.

 

In the current outdoor season, Francine Niyonsaba has only lost to Caster Semenya, finishing three times second in the Rabat Diamond League on 22 May (1:57.74), the  Roma Diamond League on 2 June (1:58.20) and the Monaco Diamond League on 15 July where she improved her national record (1:56.24) . In the absence of Semenya, she dominated the Birmingham Diamond League on 5 June (1:56.92) and the István Gyulai Memorial in Budapest on 18 July (1:59.84).

 

Niyonsaba, second in the world rankings, has clearly positioned herself as a medal contender at the Rio Olympics. Will Burundi get their second Olympic medal twenty years after the gold clinched by Venuste Niyongabo in the 5000m in Atlanta?

 

Personal Bests

800m: 1:56.24 (2016)

800m indoor: 2:00.01 (2016)

 

Yearly Progression

800m – 2012: 1:56.59 NR, NJR; 2013:1:56.72; 2015:1:57.62; 2016: 1:56.24 NR

 

Career Highlights

2012                1st        African Championships, Porto Novo                          (1:59.11)

2012                6th          Olympic Games, London                                        (1:59.63)
2016                1st        IAAF World Indoor Championships, Portland             (2:00.01)

                                   

Prepared by Carole Fuchs for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2016