Rio Olympics 2016: Where is Eric the Eel now?

By Dan Elsom

Swimming judges monitor the finish of Eric Moussambani as he competes alone in the first heat of the men's 100m freestyle at the 200 Sydney Olympics. Photo / AP
Swimming judges monitor the finish of Eric Moussambani as he competes alone in the first heat of the men's 100m freestyle at the 200 Sydney Olympics. Photo / AP

"Forget Thorpe, forget Klim. Focus on Eric."

The words of Greig Pickhaver, better known as H.G. Nelson, could not have better predicted the reaction to Eric Moussambani's now-famous 100m freestyle heat at the Sydney Olympics.

Dubbed "Eric the Eel", Moussambani stole the hearts of sports fans around the globe with a performance that has come to characterise just what the Games are all about. And focus on Eric they did.

Back in the year 2000, a then-22-year-old Moussambani swam solo in the first heat of the 100m free after his other two competitors were disqualified. Eric managed a time of 1:52 - a full minute and five seconds slower than the world record at the time.

But it was his background that made his story so iconic.

Eric swam solo in the first heat of the 100m free after his other two competitors were disqualified. Photo / AP
Eric swam solo in the first heat of the 100m free after his other two competitors were disqualified. Photo / AP

Coming from the small African nation of Equatorial Guinea, Moussambani had only taken up swimming a few years prior, and had never swum in a pool longer than 13m.

"I started swimming when I left school. We didn't have a swimming pool. We didn't have anything, and I went to train at a private hotel pool that was about 13 metres long I think," he said in an interview late last year.

"I trained on my own and I had no swimming experience. The pool was only available from 5am to 6am and I was only able to train for three hours a week. I used to go swimming in rivers and the sea too, though. The fishermen would tell me how to use my legs and how to swim. There was nothing professional about it at all."

Eric's swim made him an instant hit, with the media buzzing over his heartwarming story.

"Suddenly I started to see myself and my race on all the TV stations around the world, CNN and the rest," Moussambani said.

"I also gave a lot of interviews and the whole thing totally changed my life."

So what of the Eel now, 16 years on from his moment of glory?

According to Hit 92.9, Moussambani remains in charge as head coach of the Equatorial Guinea national swimming squad - a job he took over in 2012.

Thanks to Moussambani, Equatorial Guinea now boasts two 50m pools, allowing his athletes to train on a similar stage to that of competition.

The Eel was pushing to have one of his fellow nationals compete at Rio in 2016. Unfortunately, like Eric's attempts to compete in the 2004 Games, they never quite made it.

Oh, what could have been.

- news.com.au

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