From the heights of the pool on Calle 5, Eric Moussambani he scanned the immensity of the pool. 50 meters one way and another 50 back. An eternity for him. Moments before hearing the signal to jump into the water, a ‘flashback’ shook his mind. He remembered how, just eight months ago, he had come to the call of the National Olympic Committee of Equatorial Guinea looking for swimmers to go to Sydney 2000. He was the only man who showed up. And he was chosen … even though he barely knew how to float. Against the clock, he learned to paddle in the sea thanks to a fisherman, and then trained from 5 to 6 in the morning in the pool of only 12 meters long at a hotel in Malabo when guests slept.
At the Olympic Village in Sydney, he spent the two weeks prior to its premiere learning how to prepare for the 100-meter freestyle. I watched the swimmers, how they jumped into the water, how they stroked and kicked, how they breathed … A South African coach saw him so disoriented that he taught him some techniques, how to turn around in the 50-meter turn and gave him a blue swimsuit to compete since Eric only had some beach shorts. The night before his debut, terrified, he spent watching videos of Olympic stories.
And there he was, September 19, 2000, at the Sydney Aquatic Center. Moussambani, in the first round of the 100m, had to face Karin Bare from Nigeria and Farkhod Oripov from Tajikistan. The two were eliminated by false start while he, inert, did not blink. The warning sounded and he jumped into the water alone. It fumbled awkwardly, tilting its head. Almost exhausted, he reached the first 50 meters, managed to submerge and turn. I could hardly feel my legs anymore. The 17,000 spectators in the pavilion, stunned, could not believe what they saw. Laughter gave way to breath. The audience got up from their seats and began to applaud him, push him and yell at him. “go, go, go”. The last few meters were agonizing. His strength was lacking, it was difficult for him to breathe, he looked like he was going to drown. And, with slaps, he arrived. He stopped the clock in 1 minute, 52 seconds and 72 hundredths. It was and is the worst time in history, but it had become a legend and its history is one of the most emblematic of the Games, an example of spirit and improvement.
After Sydney, Éric Moussambani continued training. He came to lower his mark in more than a minute. He was left out of Athens 2004 because he was unable to renew his passport and, in 2012, he tried to swim at the London Games, but was unable to travel either due to an administrative problem. Today he continues to be a national hero in Equatorial Guinea and the coach of the national swimming team.
He swam the worst 100m in swimming history, but gave one of the greatest examples of overcoming at a Games.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.