“The Olympic Games was something unknown for me. I was just happy that I was going to travel abroad and represent my country. It was new for me. It was very far from Africa.”
Nicknamed by the media as Eric the Eel, Olympian and Equatorial Guinea swimmer, Eric Moussambani achieved worldwide fame at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 even though he recorded the world’s slowest time in the 100m freestyle event.
Born on May 31, 1978 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Eric Moussambani Malonga grew up in the capital of the tiny oil-rich country with his mother and sisters. As a young child he played football, volleyball and basketball along with his peers, but he was never that good at any of them. He also enjoyed cycling and though he did not own a bicycle because his mother couldn’t afford one, he used to borrow from his friends.
Eric recalls swimming in the sea at the age of 12 when he went to his mother’s village for holidays, and had never seen an Olympic-size swimming pool before until he arrived Australia for the Olympic Games in 2000, because there was no such pool in Equatorial Guinea at that time.
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Sometime in late April 2000, Eric heard a call over the radio for interested persons to come for trials at the Hotel Ureca in Malabo to be part of the national swimming team and get a chance to represent the country at the Olympics. On May 6, 2000, 22-year old Eric who was then an engineering student at the university turned up and found out that the only other person who heeded the call was a young lady. It was Eric’s first time in a swimming pool.
After persuading the officials they could swim, the Equatorial Guinea national swimming team was born. The officials told both of them to get a passport and photo ready, and to keep training. Without a trainer for the team, Eric was training on his own in the river and the sea and when he could he used the 13m Hotel Ureca swimming pool.
“I was very surprised, I did not imagine that it would be so big… I was going to the pool and watching the Americans, how they trained and dived, because I didn’t have any idea. I copied them. I had to… I learnt everything in Sydney.”
When Eric arrived at the games, he went to check out the swimming pool and was shocked to see the size. He began observing the US swimming team and picked up some things from them like how to dive in and other movements in the pool.
A wild-card scheme designed to encourage developing countries to send athletes to the Olympics meant Eric never had to meet the qualifying standard to participate at the games. In the first qualifying heat of the Men’s 100m Freestyle, Eric was drawn along with two other athletes from Niger and Tajikistan. The two however got disqualified for jumping the gun, meaning Eric had to compete alone to beat the time of 1min 10secs.
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Alone with thousands of spectators and cameras flashing and TV crew all around relaying the moments to the world, Eric waited for the gun and dove off a starting block into a 50m pool for the first time in his entire life. At some point it looked like he was never going to make it to the end of the race, but cheered on by the crowd he did eventually in a time of 1min 57.72secs – the slowest time ever over the distance at a competition level.
Eric Moussambani became an instant celebrity and was nicknamed Eric the Eel. TV crew were lining up to interview him and he even got an endorsement from Speedo® whose brand of trunks he had worn for his Olympics swimming ordeal. Eric has since lowered his time to 57secs, an Equatorial Guinea national record, but he did not get to participate at another Olympic Games.
However in 2012, Eric already an IT engineer was appointed head coach of the national swimming team in Equatorial Guinea. The country now boasts of two 50m pools where the athletes train regularly.
[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”24748″ img_size=”600×400″ add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center” style=”vc_box_shadow_border”][vc_column_text]For more, please see:
In the spirit of the ongoing Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil; Afro Tourism raises the torch to the Olympian, Head coach of Equatorial Guinea swimming team, city icon and national hero and an African legend Eric ‘the Eel’ Moussambani Malonga!