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September 19, 2000
Move over Thorpe, here comes MoussambaniJulian Linden
Never mind that his freestyle was a little too free and his progress through the water painfully slow.
Eric Moussambani made it up and down the Olympic pool on Tuesday buoyed by a cheering Australian crowd.
The 22-year-old from the tiny West African country of Equatorial Guinea had never seen an Olympic size 50-metre pool before coming to Sydney.
He only started competitive swimming in January and had practiced in a 20-metre pool. He had not swum an entire 100 metres without stopping for breath.
But a childhood spent paddling in crocodile-infested rivers meant he was made of sterner stuff.
Although he looked like he might go under at any moment Moussambani laboured through the world's fastest pool over 100 metres in more time than it took Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband to win the gold medal over double the distance the night before.
Competing in the first of 10 heats in the men's blue ribbon 100 event he clocked one minute 52.72 seconds. "The Flying Dutchman" won the 200 in 1:45.35, equalling his own world record.
Nine world records have been set in the golden pond in the first three days of competition and Moussambani's performance had the statisticians flicking through their books to see if another had been set.
No one could say for sure it was the slowest swim in Olympic history but it was at least 30 seconds slower than the time it took Arnold Guttmann of Hungary to win the first 100 final at Athens in 1896, in open water, around the Bay of Zea, near Piraeus.
Nevertheless, the crowd loved it. And at least he did win his heat -- albeit because the other two entrants, Karim Bare of Nigeria and Farkhod Oripov of Tajikistan, were disqualified.
Moussambani was allowed to compete at the Games as part of a plan by the sport's world governing body FINA to promote swimming in countries not already competing. The Equatorial Guinea Swimming Federation was formed just six months ago but so far has only attracted seven members.
One of them, Paula Barila, is also competing in Sydney as part of the country's four-member team.
Moussambani was given the honour of carrying his country's flag at Friday's opening ceremony, but big things were not expected from him when he stood on the blocks hoping to join the likes of Van de Hoogenband, Alexander Popov and Michael Klim in the semifinals.
Swimming alone, he reached the far wall in 40.97, just a mere 19.33 seconds off Popov's 50 metres world record of 21.64.
His attempt at a tumble-turn was not exactly what the world swimming coaches training manual recommends but he got round.
Unfortunately, the last lap seemed so much further than the first and he looked to be struggling until the crowd rose to cheer him on just as they had done when Australian teenager Ian Thorpe was trying to catch van de Hoogenband the night before.
His second lap took all of 1:11.75 but he got there eventually in a total time of 1:52.72 to be greeted to the greatest roar of his life.
Overjoyed, Moussambani announced he would start practicing his swimming saying he wanted to compete at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
"I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd because it was their cheering that kept me going," he said.
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