Eric Moussambani - Of determination, courage and excellence
Eric participated in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. This story is actually one of my personal favorites.
So, in the Olympics, countries that fail to produce athletes who meet qualification standards are granted "wildcards", which allow them to enter the competition without actually meeting the regular Olympic qualification standards.
This is to encourage the participation of developing countries lacking full training facilities. Eric was just 22 years old from Equatorial Guinea when he gained entry to Sydney Olympics in 2000 via a wildcard.
Eric found his passion for swimming shortly after high school. At the time, he did not know how to swim, but he knew that it was a sport that he wanted to pursue. He had never seen a swimming pool before, until he found a 13m pool in a hotel that he only had access to three hours a week.
On days he could not use the pool, he trained in rivers and the sea, with the local fisherman guiding him on how to use his legs and arms to stay afloat.
After about eight months of swimming, he gained entry into the 2000 Summer Olympics. For the first time, he traveled outside his country on the way to Olympic Games in Sydney. It took about three days with several layovers for Eric to reach Sydney.
It was only at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre where Eric saw an Olympic-sized swimming pool for the first time. Just imagine, you are going to compete at the biggest stage of sports and you are seeing a 50m swimming pool for the first time at the Games. Definitely, not an easy environment to be in at all.
To make things worse, in the run-up to the Olympics, Eric had been mistakenly informed that he would be swimming only 50m and he had trained accordingly. On his arrival at the Games, he discovered the discipline in which he was entered was twice that distance, it was 100 meters, a distance that he had never attempted in life.
In the days leading up to the event, Eric trained simultaneously with the American swimming team, he used to sit and watch the US swimmers and try to learn their techniques. He also went around to the swimmers and trainers for advice.
Some helped him some didn't. A South African coach, who first double-checked if Eric was really an athlete competing at the Olympics, later helped Eric by not only teaching him some techniques but also gave him a proper swim brief and goggles. I could not find the name of the coach. If you happen to know the name of the South African coach please mention it in the comment section.
The coach practiced the values of the Olympic Games in a very true sense. He respected Eric, taught him, and helped him be a better swimmer.
On D-day - 19 September, 2000, Eric came out for the heats of 100 men's freestyle with Nigeria’s Karin Bare and Tajikistan’s Farkhod Oripov. His fellow competitor was disqualified for making a false start.
He completed the first 50m with all his energy. Then, he struggled to complete the next 50m. His legs became stiff, he gave an impression that he was going nowhere. But still he was determined to touch the finish line and he never gave up.
More than 17,000 people were present that day and they cheered for Eric and encouraged him to finish the race. His lungs were burning with pain but he fought through it, touched the wall and clocked in 1:52.72s - finishing 71st. This timing was also the slowest timing in the history of the Olympic Games.
You must be wondering why am I talking about the slowest swimmer in Olympic Games and his race. But this is actually a story of excellence, courage and determination. It is a story of not giving up, and giving the best - fighting it out with all he had.
As Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics once said: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well”
Many would have given up. But Eric motivated himself. You need to fight it out yourself and better yourself every day.
The story of Eric Moussambani did not end in Sydney. By 2004, Eric had halved his personal best time to 56.9s. And by 2006, he swam in 52.18s - his best time ever. Unfortunately, he was unable to compete in Athens during the 2004 Olympics due to a passport issue.
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