Wednesday, September 20|
Slow swimmer has fast goals
SYDNEY, Australia -- OK, so he barely survived his first
100-meter freestyle race. Eric Moussambani is aiming for a medal at
the next Olympics, and he has a state-of-the-art bodysuit to help
The most unlikely hero of the Sydney Games picked up the suit
Wednesday (Tuesday night ET), a day after he struggled through the
preliminary rounds of the 100 free and posted a time more than a
minute slower than the top qualifiers.
"The last 15 meters were very difficult," said the 22-year-old
from Equatorial Guinea, who brought the crowd cheering to its feet
-- even though he looked like he might drown.
"It was a great feeling," Moussambani said.
Moussambani was a wildcard entry in the race, part of a program
of swimming's governing body that encourages the sport in countries
where it is not traditionally practiced.
He has been swimming only since January and before Tuesday had
never raced in a 50-meter pool.
Undeterred by that struggle, he was back in the pool Wednesday
with a new weapon -- a sleek bodysuit from its maker, Speedo.
Speedo claims its Fastskin suit improves performance as much as
3 percent, and outfits the powerhouse swimmers from the gold
medal-winning U.S. and Australian swim teams.
Cheered on by other swimmers -- mostly city workers doing their
lunchtime laps and a few schoolkids -- Moussambani slipped out of a
white bathrobe and into the water to model the suit.
It's "very easy. I am going fast," Moussambani told reporters
after puffing and splashing his way down the 50-meter pool. Other
swimmers clapped and one man even challenged him to a race. Wisely,
In his Olympic heat, Moussambani was timed at 1 minute, 52.72
seconds. The fastest qualifier was Pieter van den Hoogenband of the
Netherlands at 48.64 seconds.
Did the bodysuit make any difference in his latest swim? That
will have to stay a secret until his next race. No one turned on
Moussambani, who speaks only a few words of English, seemed
overwhelmed by his new celebrity.
"It's a bit much for him," a translator said of the media
thronging around him.
Moussambani said he spoke to his mother, Lucia Malonga, on the
phone earlier Wednesday. Before the swim, she knew nothing about
it. Afterward, the phone rang constantly with news crews seeking
her son's story.
"I didn't know why he was going to those games," she said from
her Malabo home. "My boy went to training -- I think that's what
they called it -- every day.
"He would come home all cold and stuffy every day, but he
wouldn't leave it. He got more and more interested in swimming.
That was good because he already quit soccer, then he quit
basketball. Then he started to run and he quit that, too."
Malonga said her son, the oldest of five children, was an
unlikely candidate for an Olympic swimming team.
"He didn't use to really care for swimming except for on the
beach a bit," she said. "I thought he mostly wanted to see
Once he goes home, Moussambani said he wants to go to college,
if he can get the money.
He also wants to find "a good coach" to train for the 2004
Olympics -- and win a medal.
|Eric Moussambani's swim made him a celebrity in Sydney.|