Unlikely Olympian 'Eric the Eel' reflects on his fame 20 years on

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  • Eric Moussambani

SHOTLIST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIASEPTEMBER 19, 2000SOURCE: AFP 1. Photo (FILES) In this file photo taken on September 19, 2000 Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea dives his men's 100m freestyle heat at the International Aquatic Center in Sydney during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Eric Moussambani swam the first 100m freestyle race of his life today, buoyed at the tortuous end by the roar of the crowd at the Olympic pool. 2. Photo Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea powers through his men's 100m freestyle heat 19 September 2000 at the International Aquatic Center in Sydney during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. MALABO, EQUATORIAL GUINEASEPTEMBER 14, 2020SOURCE: AFPTV 3. SOUNDBITE 1 - Eric Moussambani, Equatoguinean former professional swimmer (male, Spanish, 31 sec): "After swimming, honestly on a personal level, I felt grateful that at least I had represented my country, and completed the 100 metres, which I had never done before. And then there was the acclaim I got from all the federations, all the countries." "Después de nadar, sinceramente en mi ámbito personal, me sentí agradecido también porque al menos por representar al país, y por completar los 100 metros, que nunca había hecho. Y por otra parte, la aclamación que recibí de todas las federaciones, todos los países." 4. Mid shot Eric Moussambani swimming in a pool5. Mid shot Eric Moussambani swimming in a pool 6. SOUNDBITE 2 - Eric Moussambani, Equatoguinean former professional swimmer (male, Spanish, 20 sec): "Honestly I didn't know how to swim, I just had notions, nothing more than that. On an international level and on a competitive level I didn't have much experience, really none at all. I didn't know how to move my arms, feet, and coordinate my breathing in the water. I didn't have much experience of any of that." "Sinceramente yo no sabía nadar, lo que tenía era noción, nada más de esto. En un nivel internacional como competitivo no tenía mucha experiencia no tenía nada de experiencia. No sabía como mover los brazos, los pies, y coordinar la respiración en el agua. No tenía mucha experiencia de nada de eso." 7. Close-up Eric Moussambani's face8. Close-up Eric Moussambani's hands 9. SOUNDBITE 3 - Eric Moussambani, Equatoguinean former professional swimmer (male, Spanish, 27 sec): "Some people also made fun of me a little bit, which gave me more satisfaction because in the interviews I had, they realised I was not well prepared like the others. But thanks to the Olympic spirit that they said I represented, I could be known and everything." "Alguna gente también se mofaba un poco de mí, lo que me dio más satisfacción porque en las entrevistas que tuve, les hice ver de que yo no estaba bien preparado como los demás. Pero gracias a ese esfuerzo y espíritu olímpico que me dijeron que representé, pude ser conocido y todo eso." 10. Cutaway: Eric Moussambani climbs out of pool 11. SOUNDBITE 4 - Eric Moussambani, Equatoguinean former professional swimmer (male, Spanish, 13 sec): "I believe that in life when you have a goal to do something, you have to keep pushing yourself to do it, and keep going, keep fighting, because sacrifice and effort is how you get what you want." "Yo creo que en la vida cuando tienes objetivos de hacer algo, tienes que seguir insistiendo en hacerlo, y seguir adelante, seguir luchando, porque el sacrificio y el esfuerzo es cuando una persona consigue lo que quiere." 12. Mid shot Eric Moussambani diving into pool and swimming ///-----------------------------------------------------------AFP TEXT STORY: INTERVIEWTwenty years after his Olympic splash, Eric the Eel looks back By Samuel OBIANG =(File Picture+Picture+Video)= ATTENTION - REPETITION, ADDS pictures. Pictures by Saidu Bah ///Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Sept 18, 2020 (AFP) - Twenty years ago, Eric Moussambani became a global star after swimming a 100-metre freestyle alone in the Olympic pool in Sydney so slowly that it appeared he might sink.Moussambani was the first swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, a Central African nation with a population at the time of less than one million, to compete in the Olympics."At the end of the race, I felt grateful above all because at least I had been able to represent my country, because I had managed to finish those 100 metres, which I had never done before," he told AFP in Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo ahead of the 20th anniversary on Saturday.Moussambani did not race against the top swimmers, but was instead put in a heat for beneficiaries of an Olympic programme designed to encourage sport development.In the 100 metres the two other competitors, from Tajikistan and Niger, were disqualified for false starts, leaving Moussambani to swim alone.He started well enough but in the second lap, his freestyle slowed to a crawl. The 17,000 crowd in the aquatic centre in the Olympic Park roared him home in 1min 52.72sec. The same day, Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband, who would win the gold, set a world record of 47.84sec in his semi-final.Yet Moussambani had made a splash. The global media, fans and sponsors embraced 'Eric the Eel'.Moussambani had only recently learned to swim and had never seen a 50-metre pool before arriving in Sydney."When I was young, I played basketball," he said. "I broke my arm, and I had a panicky fear of playing again. I became interested in swimming. When I was about 19, 20 years old, I started to learn with a fisherman because I couldn't swim."- 'I couldn't swim' - When he heard the country's swimming federation was looking for swimmers he went along."I was the only boy, there was a girl too, in the end there were only two of us."The trials were held there and then."The president of the Olympic Committee at the time, Fernando Minko, wanted to see how we swam, so I dived into the pool and started to move my feet. He told us we were going to the Olympics in Australia. "It was two or three months away from the opening! There wasn't even a coach. I asked a man from the hotel to come and coach me. He said OK but from 5:00am to 6:00am in the morning because the pool was for the guests."I didn't know what the Olympics were all about," he said. "I didn't even know where Australia was." Paula Barila Bolopa was Equatorial Guinea's other entrant in Sydney. She was also out of her depth. Swimming her heat in the women's 50m three days after Moussambani's 100 metres, she recorded the slowest ever time in the event, which entered the Olympic programme in 1988.The facilities in Sydney were an eye opener. "When they showed me the Olympic pool, I had never seen one so big, I thought 'seriously, I can't'," Moussambani said. "During my training in Sydney I never swam all the way to the end," he said. "Honestly, I couldn't swim.""There were South African and American swimmers, I took the opportunity to watch how they moved their feet, their technique, I asked them questions."He also lacked equipment until the day of his first race. "A coach from South Africa saw me wearing Bermuda shorts I'd bought at a second-hand shop and a towel and asked me: 'Where are you going?' 'Swimming,' I told him. 'You are going to be disqualified, your outfit is not regulation, it looks like you're going to the beach.' So he gave me a swimming costume and goggles." - 'Olympic spirit' - Kitted out, Moussambani took the plunge."Of course there was some mockery, but in the interviews I had afterwards, people explained to me that I was not prepared, not trained like the others, but that I had represented the strength of the Olympic spirit." That swim transformed Moussambani's life. "I did a lot of advertising in Japan and Australia. I travelled," he said.It also made him a symbol for swimming in Equatorial Guinea, where there are now two Olympic-size pools."I am a national coach in the swimming federation of Equatorial Guinea, my life has changed completely. I work to ensure that our country has good swimmers, teaching them the fundamentals of swimming. "They, at least, have the opportunity to see and train in Olympic swimming pools. I divide my life between my work in an oil company and the swimming federation."I'm a different Eric than 20 years ago. I have a wife and four children," he said. "I'm not rich but I earn my living."He said that he tells the young swimmers the lesson he took from his lonely swim in Sydney."I ask them to have a lot of courage, because I believe that, in life, when you have goals, you have to persevere to achieve them."sam-gir/pb/gj -------------------------------------------------------------

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