History: Eric the Eel – 19th Sept 2000 – 1:52.72 for 100m Free

History: Eric the Eel – 19th Sept 2000 – 1:52.72 for 100m Free

Source: Craig Lord, SwimVortex

(19th Sept 2018) Today was the day 18 years ago at Sydney 2000, that the editor of SwimVortex, Craig Lord, gave Eric the Eel his name in a column posted at The Times Online, which was running instant reports on the internet ahead of the newspaper’s coverage for the first time in the history of publication (1785 and officially ‘The Times’ in 1788).

Here is an extract from one version of the report on the day:

Courage on the blocks

Eric Moussambani, from Equatorial Guinea, learned to swim in January when his nation established its first aquatics federation. This morning, he stepped onto his blocks in baggy blue trunks, drawstrings dangling and untied, to make his Olympic debut in the 100m freestyle.

It was a nervous moment for the 22-year-old, who fumbled with his goggles with the dexterity of a child handling a pen for the first time. Two lengths amounted to 100 metres but swimming’s answer to Eddie the Eagle, Eric the Eel, had only ever raced over 50m before – and that in a 20-metre pool.

The Olympic waters of the Sydney International Aquatic Centre stretched out before him like a marathon course.

Beside him were two bodysuited swimmers, Niger’s Karim Bare – who was anything but – and Farkhod Oripov, of Tajikistan, all three invited to Sydney under the friendship funding programme organised by FINA, swimming’s global authority.

The starter called the swimmers to their marks. Moussambani, 5ft 7in, held steady. The taller bodysuits wobbled, fell in and were cast out of the race under the no false-start rule, their Olympic Games over. The 18,000-crowd booed but the judge would have none of it.

Moussambani, one of 11 from his country in Sydney, ploughed a lonely lane for his finest 1 minute 52.72 second (40.97-1:11.75) though it felt like an hour. The gun fired and Eric the Eel plunged into the lane in which Ian Thorpe had raced to a silver medal in 1min 45sec over double the distance the day before.

At first, the crowd clapped politely. But the mood turned as the race for survival progressed. At the turn, Eric the Eel vanished. He was under a long time (a couple of seconds that felt like an hour). A hush descended on the crowd. Eric looked like he was caught in a riptide. Was he facing up or down, and did he know it himself? The sense of relief in the venue was tangible when the man from Molabu surfaced to take a breath.

The largely Australian crowd – nearly every man, woman and child probably capable of swimming faster than Moussambani – warmed to the occasion and lifeguards stood by poised to plunge in for the rescue as the swimmer’s stroke shortened, and his legs sank from the surface.

Would he make it to the end wall? Touch and go. With a final desperate lunge, Moussambani was safe. It would be some while before he could get dry; an hour after clambering shattered on to the deck, he had still not made it through the gauntlet of cameras, microphones and media.

His time would have been a world Masters record – in the 100 to 104 year group, the speed of 97-year-old Gus Langner from the United States still a target on his way to Athens 2004.

Moussambani, who works in information technology and carried his country’s flag at the Opening Ceremony, sent “kisses and hugs to the whole crowd”, and, speaking in Spanish and French, added:

“I could hear them cheering and it helped me to get to the end. I didn’t want to swim 100 meters but my coach told me that I should do it anyway – I thought it was too much but thanks to the crowd, I made it.”

More famous than the Thorpedo for an hour at the Olympic Games in Sydney today.

The consequence of it all: ‘B’ target times were introduced, the International Olympic Committee no longer prepared to have the Games used for learn-to-swim.

Not that that stopped the Olympic movement capitalising on what it had banned, so to speak: (watch the video below)

Watch it on YouTube.
Click here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDqwYUe_U7I

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Moussambani