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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Don't call me Eric
By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport in Athens

Roberto Caracciolo did not know whether to laugh or cry when he was selected to run for Equatorial Guinea at the Olympics.

Because, like it or not, he was always going to be compared to compatriot Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani.

Roberto Caracciolo smiles for the camera
The population of Equatorial Guinea believe Roberto is a genuine medal contender

Caracciolo's hapless countryman provided one of the most farcical moments in Olympic history four years ago when he struggled to finish a 100m swimming heat.

But the 22-year-old is determined to put as much distance between himself and the Eel Mark II tag when he competes in the 1500m on Friday.

"I don't know if Eric not being here in Athens is a blessing or not," Caracciolo told BBC Sport.

"I guess if he had been it would have taken some of the heat off me.

"At the same time, I might have just punched him and said 'what the hell are you doing, man?'

I hope I don't turn it into a racewalking event
Roberto Caracciolo
"But I can't fault him too much. He just did his own thing and, like myself, he jumped at the opportunity that was given to him.

"He did not know the repercussions. Unfortunately it's something the rest of us are going to have to live for many, many years."

Caracciolo has never met Moussambani.

The son of a US diplomat, he was born in Barcelona and has been based in the United States for the past 13 years.

He had a spell living in Equatorial Guinea when he was a child, and qualifies to run for the west African nation - population 494,000 - because his mother Nuria was born there.

While Moussambani did not make it to Athens because officials lost his passport photograph, Caracciolo arrived to find out he would not be able to enter his specialist event.

He had trained to run in the 3000m steeplechase, but eligibility rules meant he had to rely on the wildcard lottery for smaller nations.

To make things worse, the population of Equatorial Guinea are under the impression that he is a genuine medal contender.

"They are saying on TV and radio all the time that they've got this great athlete who's spent all his life in America and is bringing his own coach to the Games," he said.

"So basically I feel pressure from everywhere. It seems like they are expecting this guy to come out of nowhere and sweep gold.

"When I think about it it almost makes me sick to my stomach.

"But I always give 110% and I hope that I can squash the Eric the Eel comparisons."

Caracciolo is a psychology graduate of the University of Albany in New York State, where he was their top steeplechaser and a runner-up in the American East Conference championships.

But he competed in only a handful of 1500m races during his college career.

His plan for Friday's heat is to stay with the leading pack until the 800m mark, and see what happens after that.

"I feel pretty ready and we will see how I finish," said Caracciolo, a budding photo-journalist who has set up his own website - - to share his Olympic experiences with the world.

"I hope I don't turn it into a racewalking event!

The legend of "The Eel" lives on in Athens

"Maybe I'll take a dive into the steeplechase pit if things are going really badly. But I don't plan on becoming another Eric and drowning on the track or anything like that.

"I'm not pretending to be someone I'm not. I know I'm most probably not going to get out of my heat.

"I'm going to take it with a sense of humour and still give it my best. My coach told me I should sign a pair of my shoes and throw them into the crowd, even if I come dead last.

"Unfortunately I'm under a magnifying glass.

"I feel like unless I go out there and do something ridiculous, like win or come last with my shorts around my ankles, I'm not going to get any slack cut for me.

"But I can't complain too much. I got a free trip to the Olympics, I'm surrounded by world-class athletes and it's a great vacation."

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