Eric the Eel

Equatorial Guinea’s Olympic hero was unable to swim eight months before Sydney 2000, but he took to it like a duck (or eel) to water.

Written by Oscar Scafidi


Eric had been unable to swim eight months before the 2000 Olympics, but Equatorial Guinea was allowed to send a competitor under the wild-card entry system established to give athletes from developing countries the opportunity to compete. After qualifying to represent the country in trials held in the 12m Hotel Ureca pool in Malabo, Eric spent most of his time training in lakes and rivers, with the occasional foray into a hotel swimming pool. To make matters more diffi cult, Eric thought he was training for the 50m freestyle event and was not informed that he was competing in the 100m event until he arrived in Sydney. His arrival in Australia also marked the first time Eric had seen or set foot in an Olympic size swimming pool.

On the day of Eric’s race, 17,000 spectators packed into the Sydney International Aquatic Centre to watch the Equatoguinean athlete compete against Tajikistan’s Farkhod Oripov and Karim Bare of Niger. Both Oripov and Bare made a false start, meaning instant disqualifi cation. This left the 22-year old Eric to swim the two lengths on his own against the clock. After making a quick start, it soon became clear to the crowd that Eric was struggling, with BBC commentator Adrian Moorhouse saying at the one-minute mark ‘this guy doesn’t look at though he is going to make it’. However, Eric did make it, finishing at 1 minute 52.72 seconds, marking both a personal best and the new Equatoguinean national record at this distance. The world record currently stands at 46.91 seconds.

Dubbed ‘Eric the Eel’ by commentators around the world, Moussambani achieved international fame and has since gone on to improve his 100m freestyle time to under one minute. His glorious failure, although initially a source of embarrassment to his home government, was held up as the embodiment of the games’ spirit by many commentators. In March 2012, he was appointed national swimming coach for Equatorial Guinea.

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