World's Slowest Swimmer Returning to Olympics

Eric Herman Headshot

Eric HermanI’ve always loved the Olympics, both summer and winter — for a hundred reasons and for stories like this: Twelve years ago at the Sydney Summer Olympics, Eric “The Eel” Moussambani became a cult hero when he won a 100-meter freestyle heat by swimming the slowest time for the event in Olympic history, 1:52, more than a full minute slower than the world record. 

How does anyone win a heat while also setting a record for slowness? Well, Moussambani was the only person in the heat due to DQs of his other would-be competitors. Swimming alone, barely able to stay afloat, Moussambani fought his way to the end and received a standing ovation from the crowd. I remember seeing a replay of the scene and it was clear the crowd was not mocking Moussambani but instead rewarding his effort. 

Moussambani was the only athlete that year from Equatorial Guinea, an impoverished African nation that at the time had not a single 50-meter pool. When Moussambani arrived in Sydney, he had only seen Olympic-sized pools on TV and had been “training” in a small hotel pool. In spite of that insurmountable deficit, and there on the world’s largest stage, he dove in and gamely did his thing. 

His gutsy performance in Sydney immediately catapulted him into the same rare status shared by legends such as the Jamaican bobsledding team or Eddy the Eagle, the British sky jumper whose record-setting bad performance resulted in overnight fame. 

Now, 12 years later, Moussambani is not only returning to the Olympics this summer in London, but also coaching the Equatorial Guinea swim team. And, yes, the nation does now have a pool large enough for proper training and it’s reported that Eric “The Eel” has cut his 100-meter time in half. It remains doubtful that he’ll be in contention for a medal, but certainly won’t challenge his own record as the slowest 100-meter freestyle swimmer of all time. 

It’s narrative such as this, and countless others why the Olympics remain worthwhile. Because when it comes to the pageant that is Olympic competition, it’s true that wonders never cease! 

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