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Who is Eric Moussambani?

By M. Applegate
Updated May 23, 2024
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When it comes to making Olympic history there are a variety of records and statistics that athletes strive to match. However, some who make the journey to the Olympic Games create a different kind of legacy all their own. This was certainly the case for swimmer Eric Moussambani during the 2000 Summer Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia.

Eric Moussambani's path to the Olympics did not conform to the traditional training methods that most athletes must undergo to qualify for their events. In fact, rather than beginning his training from a young age, the young swimmer from Equatorial Guinea did not take up his sport until eight months before the start of the 2000 Games. His inclusion in the ranks of athletes in Sydney was due to a new program which had been designed to encourage the expansion of sports into developing nations around the world. Thus, Moussambani was not required to meet the minimum qualifications that Olympic participants are generally held to. Instead, he was elected to compete in the contest as a result of a wild card drawing among various hopefuls from a number of developing countries.

The Olympic swimmer was born in Equatorial Guinea on 31 May 1978 and did not begin swimming until January of 2000. He entered the Olympic Games in Sydney without ever having laid eyes on an Olympic-sized, 160 foot (50 meter), pool before. His training had taken place in a 66 foot (20 meter) hotel pool with unmarked lanes. He was scheduled to swim the 100 meter freestyle heat with swimmers Karim Bare and Farkhod Oripov. The freestyle event took a strange twist, however, when both Bare and Oripov were disqualified at the beginning of the race for false starts. This left Moussambani alone to complete the 100 meter event.

It took Eric Moussambani a total of one minute and 52.72 seconds to complete the entire 100 meters, which was twice the distance of his longest race coming into the Olympic Games. His time placed him at over one minute longer than the fastest swimmers and seven seconds longer than the world-record set by Pieter van den Hoogenband in the 200 meter. However, it was not only a personal best for Moussambani, it also set a national record in his home country. The wild card swimmer continued to train in his sport and hoped to return to the 2004 Olympic Games. Unfortunately, he encountered a mishap regarding his visa which kept him from participating. He was also absent from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

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Discussion Comments
By backdraft — On Sep 18, 2011

Though I now live in America, I was born and raised in Equatorial Guinea. Eric Moussambani is one of our few internationally recognizable heroes and he is a source of national pride for everyone from my country. He may not have won the race or set any new records, but he did something that no one else from our country has done. It is impossible not to be moved by his story, especially if you are familiar with the living conditions in our home country.

I believe that one day a boy or girl from Equatorial Guinea who has been inspired by Eric's story will swim for a gold medal in the Olympics.

By Ivan83 — On Sep 18, 2011

I will always remember the story of Eric Moussambani. I am kind of Olympics fanatic and I follow both the summer and the winter games pretty closely. There was just something so unexpected and inspiring about Eric's story that it has always seemed like one of the great tales from the Olympics.

I think what is so great about this story is that it really embodies the spirit of the Olympics. The Olympics are about effort, overcoming obstacles, striving for greatness and rejecting boundaries. Often this plays out as an athlete doing something that no other human being has ever done before. But sometimes this plays out is smaller and maybe sweeter ways as it did in the case of Eric. His story should be an inspiration to all future Olympians.

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