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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
African novice makes big splash
Lone star: Moussambani's 100m of fame
Lone star: Moussambani's 100m of fame
Many of those watching in Sydney and around the world would have been able to swim the two lengths in half the time - but there was no denying Eric Moussambani his moment of Olympic fame.

The 22-year-old from Equatorial Guinea, who has only been swimming since January, huffed and puffed his way to winning his 100m freestyle heat and the hearts of all those around him.

In a pool famous for fast times and record-breaking achievements, Moussambani set a landmark all his own - by actually managing to complete the distance.

He had never raced more than 50m before the preliminaries, but was thrust into the limelight when the two other swimmers in his heat were eliminated for false starts.

The African novice duly flopped into the water by himself and headed off on his long, tortuous journey.

At first, those watching on thought nothing of the lazy-looking strokes, but after his 'interesting' flip turn at the halfway point, it suddenly became apparent this was no ordinary swim.

Staying afloat

Endeavouring to keep his head above water at all times and flailing his arms wildly, he somehow managed to stay afloat as he inched his way to the wall, and salvation.

Once there, he held on for dear life, before emerging from the water to rapturous applause.

His 'heat-winning' time was one minute, 52.72 seconds, over a minute longer than the fastest swimmers and also more than seven seconds off Pieter van den Hoogenband's world record in the 200m.

But there could be no doubt that here was another Olympic hero in the making.

"I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd," the French-speaking Moussambani said through an interpreter.

"It was their cheering that kept me going."

Landmark achievement

Moussambani was invited to the Olympics through a programme that allows a handful of athletes to compete even though they don't meet qualifying standards, an initiative promoted by IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch as a way of spreading sport around the world.

Moussambani, who trains in a 20m pool with no lane markers in his African homeland, carried the national flag in the opening ceremony, leading an 11-person team that also includes a female swimmer.

And Moussambani is clearly here to stay. Following his landmark achievement in Sydney, he has already declared he hopes to swim again at the 2004 Olympics.

The question is... in which discipline?

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