This is an older video I stumbled upon, which is of Eric The Eel Moussambani. Eric was the sole male entry to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney for his country. Eric hails from Equatorial Guinea, which for the geographically challenged (myself included) is a VERY small country in Central Africa. Before I get into any of the specifics, I wanted to show the video, and then take you through my thoughts when watching the race:
Now….you can start all kinds of arguments as to whether this guy should ever have been swimming in the Olympics at all, but that’s not really the focus of my post, so we’ll put a pin in that tidbit. Here are my reactions as I’m watching the video, blow by blow:
Start: Obviously this is the slowest heat, since it has the leftover competitors. This is commonly done in all swim meets.
The Commentary prior to the swim: Guy looks capable enough, wish I had a six pack like that…commentators talking him up, wonder what the deal is…curious.
The Start: I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2 DQ’s before. Wow. So there is just this one dude swimming? That sucks. No one likes to swim alone in a race. Reminds me of 15-18’s in summer swim when our team was small. They really amp up the start.
The Swim: Oh, no. This guy is awful. Out really fast, but he’s thrashing. Disbelief. How did he get to the Olympics?!? Laughter at commentators comment that he’s a human egg beater, and them trying to give him props for looking up so he doesn’t hit his head on the wall.
The Revelation: there are NO swimming pools in Equatorial Guinea (not entirely true, they have 2 hotel kidney bean pools, like that makes a difference). That explains a few things.
The Turn: that was pretty awful.
The 2nd leg: man, he’s really dying now.
Then the commentators start getting behind the guy, and throw up the line for the Equatorial Guinea Record for the 100 Free (which he holds, coincidentally). It’s no longer funny. It’s now actually exciting. I don’t know what it is about that little record line chasing down a swimmer (or a swimmer chasing it), but it INSTANTLY makes things more exciting.
The Finish: The Commentators are going nuts. I’m going nuts. I feel like I’m cheering on one of our 5 year olds who is just learning to swim and is just trying to get the length of the pool. Don’t think the crowd is thinking any different either, and they don’t have the record line floating in the pool in front of them to fire them up. You just feel the tension, you want to scream out with them, GO ERIC THE EEL!!! GO! He touches the wall and I clap my hands and am totally stoked for him. The commentators are jokingly but somewhat earnestly cheering his finish. Fade to black…..
Final Thought: I’ve got to buy land in Equatorial Guinea. My kid is going to the Olympics! (as long as we don’t actually have to go to Equatorial Guinea, which is right in the heart of Ebola country).
That’s the thing about this sport we love isn’t it? It isn’t about being the best or the fastest, it’s always about being YOUR best and fastest. And everyone in the stands knows that and supports it because at some time, their kid WAS Eric the Eel, just learning the sport, ugly but getting better every day.
Despite his performance getting the press it did, the honor for the slowest Olympic time in recorded history relative to the Existing Olympic record in an Olympic event actually was set by his female teammate, Paula Barila Bolopa, who completed the 50 Free is over a minute (she was nicknamed ‘The Crawler’).
Eric the Eel went on to cut almost a full minute off his 100 Free time (maybe they figured out how to drop some shipping containers with lane lines attached into the Ocean) and had a best time of around 57 seconds when the 2004 Olympics in Athens rolled around, but was unable to participate due to a Visa SNAFU (the passport kind, they didn’t have a problem with his credit card payment of meet fees).
The happiest possible ending though: In March 2012 he was appointed coach of the national swimming squad of Equatorial Guinea (thanks to Wikipedia for all my Eric the Eel factoids) and the country built an Olympic 50m pool in 2012.
Eric the Eel, you are my hero.
MAY THE TIMECLOCKS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.