(Interview): Tekeste Weldu ‘Jegante’, A Legend of Eritrean Cycling

Eritrean Cycling legend, Tekeste Weldu 'Jegante'
Born to be a cyclist. Tekeste Weldu ‘Jegante’ is one of the founding fathers of modern Eritrean cycling. He is one of the first Eritrean riders who participated in International Cycling tournaments including Olympic games representing Eritrea, although at that time Eritrea was not independent country.

By Asmait Futsumbrhan,

We proudly present to you a legend, some funs call him the “father of cycling”, and some told us that he is the one who introduced modern cycling to Eritrea. Tekeste Weldu, aka “Jegante”, is one of the first Eritrean Athletes who participated in international cycling tournaments including the Olympic Games, making his name shine across the world of cycling.

‘Jegante’ carries a great culture of assisting young athletes with cycling materials and opportunities. Q&A presents Jegante for a brief chat.

Q: Welcome home Jegante, please take us back to your childhood times?



It’s always good to be home. Well, I had a difficult childhood. I lost my mother when I was just a newborn, it was my grandmother who breast fed me besides the milk I used to have from our cow. I still remember the color of the cow, it was a light brown with white stripe at the center of its forehead. My grandfather was a priest and since I was an only child to my mother, he wanted me to become a priest just like him. But I never had the will to be one. I loved to work since my early ages that is why I went to Asmara to find my aunt so I could learn and work. I have worked with different people as a shepherd for some time.

Again, by the time I was 12, I started working at a bicycle repair with Goitom Abraha, who was like a brother to me. That is when I started to take interest in riding bicycles. So one of the famous cyclist of the time Fisehatsion, came and asked me to join him in his training. That was a great opportunity for me, so I rented an old bike and joined him. To my surprise, I finished first with my old bike leaving him behind. He was really impressed with me and told his boss that I have a good future in cycling. That is how I got in to cycling.

Q: Where does all your love for cycling come from?

Brava, that is a good question. Back when I just started to take interest in cycling and started to watch the races, there was a guy named Lemem kahsai. He is probably the only one who was black to participate among the Italians at that time. I recall of a specific game, I saw him cry when he came in 3rd place following two Italians. And at that moment, I promised to myself and friends that I was going to compete among the Italians and win. That was a promise I didn’t want to break.

Q: Your nickname?

When Goitom Abraha saw the way I ride the bike he went on to say “Jigna” ( hero). And that is how I got it, everybody started calling me Jegante.

Q: Of your first memories of cycling…

The first time I had to race with the young cyclist, I came in first place, making almost 5 min difference with the other contenders. Again, when I joined the first division cyclists, I came in fourth place in my first game. After competing at different events, I had to face some inconvenience which made me stop cycling for a short time.

However, the then cycling champion Salim Binnie Carmelo visited me. Trust me it was such an honor for me that a champion to know my name and wants to talk to me. He was one of cycling heroes. Salim convinced me to get back to cycling and encouraged me to train with him. We used to train at the evening times because we had to do other works during the day time. I borrowed a new bike from a friend, you know what? Champion couldn’t handle me, I left him way behind. That motivated me even more. He gave me a bike and helped me to win the races that I had competed through the years that followed.

Q: The 1968 Olympic in Mexico City….

Yes, I came in 50th place. It was a good game I remember, and I was with the first contestants and was sure that I could have finished among the winners. Unfortunately, I had to face some difficulties with the bikes and had to change four times. If it wasn’t for that specific incident, I know I could have won that game. Several Italian athletes and trainers were impressed by my performance and invited me to Italy; that is when I went to Italy.

Q: How was Italy?

It was cold. Very cold. Naturally I can’t handle cold weather, but I had to adopt. Starting from 1969, I became involved at various cycling races where I was coming in 3rd and 4th places at best. Nonetheless, it’s at a race titled, Jiro Da Osta, that I made history.

It was a very heated up race. Honestly speaking, I was racing hard to secure my spot at 2nd place, because the best racer was wearing the honorary Pink jersey. He kept telling me to let him pass and I told him that he can and kept riding. So, by the time I looked back he was far away. I just couldn’t believe that I came in first leaving their best racer behind. It was a moment that still makes me happy, I couldn’t sleep for days after that. That is my favorite win of my entire cycling carrier.



Q: Why?

Because, the Italians were the best at cycling during that time. To beat one of the toughest racers was just incredibly joyful for me.

Q: Did you have a trainer back then?

Yes I did, Aurellio. He helped me tremendously since I only had the talent and stamina not the knowledge of cycling. But my trainer was educated and knew what were my strengths and weaknesses. I was good in breaking away but I am not a sprinter. That is why one needs a good trainer to make the best out of an athlete.

Q: About the 1972 Olympic Munich…

We were informed that the Olympic Games were canceled due to some kind of inconveniences. Because of that, I was not training as hard as I should have. Suddenly, it was announced that the game was on as planned. I only had ten days training before I went into the contest which affected my timing.

Q: There was a time where you got two Gold medals…

Yes there was. It was in Nigeria, the all African games, I had worked so hard for that game. During the competition, at 60 km to the finish line, the Nigerians and Moroccans had broken away from us. I wanted to catch up so I told my teammates to hold the others from pursuing. They told me that it was a bad idea and it was never going to work. I believed my instincts just went for it. Not only have I won first place but I put on a 5 minutes difference with the player who got in 2nd place.

Again I got my second Gold medal at the chronometer completion.

Q: How many games have you had in your cycling history?

The biggest ones are, in the Champion of the world races in 1971, the Olympics of 1968 and 1972, tour of Spain where I came in 2nd place and tour of Italia where I came in 5th place.

Q: You suddenly stopped cycling when you were just 24 years old, what happened?

I would never forget it as long as I live. I was told that the then Ethiopian Emperor Haileselassie wanted to see me, to congratulate me and award me for my encouraging results. Shockingly, however, he asked me why I was not playing for Ethiopia and I told him that I was training in Italy. I also told him that I had great opportunities for me to be where I was in cycling. He openly threatened to kill me if I don’t play for Ethiopia. I was discouraged by his words. I thought that I deserved to be encouraged for what I had accomplished during my cycling days. On the contrary, he just turned the whole sport thing to political issue. And that made me stop. I didn’t want to compete anymore. After a while, they again asked me to compete for Ethiopia, I told them that I will only compete for Eritrea. I didn’t have any idea to when Eritrea was going to be free, but that was just my faith back then.

Q: You have a cycling team under your name.….

I am not that rich. It’s just that I want to see more great Eritrean athletes. Hence, I do whatever it takes to provide the young cyclist with opportunities and materials. I have a bicycle shop, the bikes are sold at a very low price. The reason is so simple, because I don’t want anyone to struggle on their way of becoming champions. The same goes for the club I sponsor. It is a first division club. It’s a well-organized team which makes great scores at different competitions.

Q: Of today’s Eritrean cyclists.

I had always believed that we were going to be great in cycling. And I was right. We naturally have the talent and strength. The cyclist we have are strong and talented, they are lucky they have all the support of their government and former athletes. We are capable of becoming world champions. However, for us to achieve this goal, we need great trainers to bring out the best in our athletes. Not only that, but the athletes should be well educated about the technicalities of a cyclist. That way we can be the best.

Q: I heard you are still ridding.

Yes. It is better for me to ride a bicycle than to walk. I am 69 years old now, I still ride my bike to travel around Eritrea, whether Keren or Massawa. There are competition that are held for the above 55 years age, I win the contests now and then which means I win over people who are younger than me by years. Last year, I was a champion for a district competition.

Q: Of your personal life…

I am married to a beautiful Italian lady Liya, and am blessed with three children.

Q: Are any of your kid’s sportspersons?

No they are not. They had the talent but they don’t have the will to be cyclist. They don’t like it and I never force them to be.

Q: What is bicycle to you…?

It is my wife, my sister and my friend. Period. I was born to be cyclist.

Q: Any last words?

Thank you for having me on your page. I just want to remind young athletes to be great at what they do and make Eritrea be the champion of the world.

  • Meaza

    Thank you TN for sharing such a wonderful story. I have heard once in a while this heroes name in connection with Eritrea cycling but this is my first time to learn his complete story as told by non other than himself. I’m happy about that.

    What strike me most is the reason why he stopped cycling at a very young age. It was the midget of Ethiopia king Haileslassie who threatened him with his life unless he compete and win for Ethiopia instead of for Eritrea. What a an A** hole.

    • dehando?

      Meaza, often we have to take some stories that people tell (or are claimed to have told) with a grain of salt.

      • B.Adal

        Dehando?? I would agree with you had the story been told by a third person, but here the Man Jegante himself is telling us the story. Why would we need a grain of salt? unless of course you mean the sad story is as bitter as a grain of salt?

        • forto sawa

          What I got is the man is as humble as a gentle soul and his passion has never faded with all the challenges he faced, most of all he believes it’s a worthy deed to have many and talented successors; and above everything else, a love for his people and country. Salt no salt, it is a matter of taste.

      • Ebay-Asmara

        Generally, yes! But in this case, that Haile Selassie can say and do such things, is not at all surprising to me. Very surprised though, that you don’t believe it.

    • Grateful Eritrean

      Meaza my patriotic sister Tekeste (Jigante) he is a man of few words.So do i.You are articulate.if i guess you are born or came to the west when you are a child,if that is the case,it make me more respect for you.You have an inquiring mind.If you read what i know personally about JIGANTE (Daniel Teclehaimanot) remind me of him physically they are both tall,they are both a men of few words.but just let them get in that bike the action speaks more than words.What JIGANTE making him happy now is HIS CHILDREN our young cyclists are growing up in Free Eritrea supported and encouraged by their own Eritrean Government which he never had a chance.I admit i am not gifted in writing.So Asmait have done her best.Now i am challenging our sports writer MIKE SIUM expand the history,of his teammate Salambini Carmealo when they where preparing to go to represent Ethiopia in the Olympics and making their preparation on their own drive and discipline and hard work in the road of Dekemhare and Ala Nefasit to Asmara they got beaten up by Ethiopian soldiers for passing few minutes from the 6;00 pm curfew.P.S even though it was to bring glory to Ethiopia nor for their personal financial gain there was none at that time.But for the love of the sport they held dear.So Like i have admitted i am eye witness to a lot of things.BUT I AM NOT GIFTED TO PUT WORDS TOGETHER am a good reader but lousy writer. Now please TN you Know the story i am giving you permission to EDIT and make some sense of my comment .I don’t won’t the readers to be bored. And specially our bright young sister MEAZA.

  • cane libero

    Indeed Jegante, that’s what Eritreans shift from generation to generation a successful story, and hearing your story confirms Eritreans way of collaborating all. Great

  • Nebelbal

    ~
    ኣብ ክብርቲ ሓርበኛ Meaza ዝበለቶ ንምምላእ ዝኣክል:

    ብፍላይ ኣብ መጋበእያታት “ሳይፐር”፣ ካብ ውጹእ ፖሎቲካዊ ትሕዝቶታት ፈንተት ኢለን ተጻሒፈን ንረኽበን ውሑዳት ጉዳየ-ኤረ-ጽሑፋትና፣ በጻብዕቲ ኢዳካ ክጽብጸባ ዝኽእላ ውሑዳት ከምምዃነን፣ እዛ ናይሎምስ ነተን ክዝክርን ዝኽእል ዘለኹ ዘበላ፣ ብእመት ዘይኮነስ ብቝመተ- ስድርታት፣ ከም እዚ ጅግና ሳይክሊስታ Gigante Tekeste Weldu ንድሕሪኣ ገዲፋተን ዝተመርቀፈት’ያ።

    ስለኡ ጠሊለ፣ ተሓቢነን ተነይተን ኣለኹ።

    ኣአንጋዲት መድርኽ ሕቶን መልስን Shabait_comን ነዚ ልብኻ እናተንከፈ ዘኹርዓካ፣ መልሲ ምስከራ ታሪኻዊ ስፖርተንያ ዝጸሓፈትልና Asmait Futsumbrhan፣ ከምኡ ከኣ ክነንብቦ ሓርዩ ዝምግበና ዘሎ tesfanews_net፣ ልባዊ ምስጋናይ ይብጻሓለይ። ብዓቢኡን ብኣውርኡን ድማ ንጅግና Giante!

    PS.: ነቲ ህዝቢ በሎ ሰብ መዚ ዘህለቐ ዝነበረ ንጉስ ሃይለ “ቆሪጥ”፣ ዘይሕሱ፣ ዘየጕባዕብዕ፣ ዘይድህል፣ ዘየፈራርሕ ወዘተ. ጌርካስ፣ ነቲ ምራቑ ውሒጡ ኣቦ ሰብኡት ኣኺሉ ዘሎ ምዕሩግ፣ ነጓብዝ ጌና እናሓብሓበ ዝቀዳደም ዘሎ ዘይሸምገለ ኣትሌትካዊ ይከኣሎ ኣያና Gigante ”ጀጋንተ” ፣ ሰብ እንተዘይፈርሐ ንፈጠሪኡ ኣጸቢቑ ኣብ ዝፈርሓሉ ዕድሚኡ፣ ታህዲድ “ተፈሪ” ንኸቓልዕ ብዝዀነ ታእምር ዘገድዶ ነገር ኣብ ዘየለወሉ ኹነታት፣ ንቓሉ ብቓሉ ክንጥርጥር ንዝዕድም “ደሓዶ” ተበሃላይ፣ ገለ ትወጥሮ ደኣ’ንበሪ፣ መድሓንቱ ኣብ ደደቢት ከናዲ እውጥሮን እድንሽሖን።
    ~

  • Jegante Fan

    Jegante, Salambini, Tesfaldet and company are to our generation what Daniel, Natnael, Merhawi and others are to the current generation of Eritreans. I used to pretend that I was Jegante when going up the hill on my bike when I was a little boy. He was a hero to many of us. Enjoyed reading the interview and learning more about him. Glad to know he is still around. Thanks

  • Sara Haile

    jegante the best amazing cyclist

  • Grateful Eritrean

    First thanks our sister Asmait Futsumbrhan for introducing The Great Tekeste Woldu (JIGANTE) to those who don’t know him,second thanks TN as usual for bringing different subjects and connecting the past with the future.that is one of the reason your (our) website is lively,educational and popular.I read this article with tears in my eyes.Growing up JIGANTE had a small bike shop in our neighborhood,he was there everyday personally fixing broken bikes and renting (he had about 10 bikes) and practicing everyday after work,and racing every Sunday and winning big,to most of them he use to make another round on top of them.Let me come back to his personality,he is the most humble,generous,but most of all he is KIND and TOLERANT and LOVING TRUSTING.As teenagers me and my childhood friends use to rent bikes from him.at that time he had three kinds of rental fees the lowest 5 cents the middle one 10 cents the top one 15 cents AN HOUR.98% of the time we never brought the bikes at time.But the angel of a man that is he never charge us for the extra time that we had fun with his bikes.He is a man of a few words,but a heart of gold and a heart of a GREAT CHAMPION.I am saying all this because (i owe him a lot of past unpaid bike rental bill,Now that i can afford to pay him with interest in my guess 70 Nakfa LOL) hope i meet him in person and And tell him how much joy he brought in our young and innocent lives.at that time we use to look forward for Sunday it was watching cycling in the morning and Football in the afternoon.I am happy the cycling tradition is getting bigger and bigger,but our Football is sorry to say it it is dead.