Milking it - a familiar term with obvious farming origins and something I'm going to do with this column and the Olympics. I didn't intend to write an Olympic trilogy, but the Games only happen once every four years and I have to do this every week.

Besides, most people seem to have at least a passing interest in the Games and I've stumbled upon some thoroughly entertaining Olympic stories in the last few days, courtesy of that doyen of New Zealand sports commentary, Paul Allison.

Paul's a regular contributor to my Newstalk ZB sports show on Saturday mornings in Otago, usually as a rugby analyst. But last week he regaled a trilogy of Olympic yarns that more people deserve to be aware of.

I'll retell them with the most familiar one first, ending with arguably the greatest Olympic story since Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce a Greek victory over the Persians.


The bronze medal story concerns that well known Equatorial Guinean swimmer Eric Moussambani. Before the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the International Olympic Committee decided in their wisdom to hand out 'wildcards' to help developing countries have a crack at the Olympics in certain sports.

So it transpired the tiny African nation broadcast a radio advertisement seeking swimmers for their Olympic team. Two people turned up and Eric got the nod. After a three month training regime that consisted of the odd swim in the country's only pool, 12 metres long, combined with river and sea swims, the self-coached Moussambani arrived in Sydney with fifty bucks and a flag.

What happened next would be classed as purely fiction, were it not beamed into millions of homes around the world for all to see. His heat in the 100m freestyle saw him facing off against just two other competitors, both of whom were disqualified for false starts!

It left Eric as the lone swimmer in the pool where he battled away, recording a time of 1 minute 52.72, more than double that of the fastest competitors.

It also earned him the nickname of 'the Eel'. In a gloriously ironic post-script, Eric the Eel trained his arse off post-Sydney, slashed his time down to 57 seconds but was denied a spot in Athens after officials lost his passport photo!

Eric the Eel is now Equatorial Guinea's head swim coach and trains his athletes in two 50m pools.

The silver medal yarn concerns the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Four months before the Games took place sixteen-year-old Betty Robinson was spotted by her school's track coach running to catch a train and was convinced to join the team.

Her debut track run three weeks later saw her finish second to the US record holder, before she equalled the world record of 12 seconds in just her second meet.

She then qualified for the American Olympic team and proceeded to become the first female track medallist in Olympic history, winning the 100m after organisers were forced to include women's events.

Then in 1931 Betty was involved in a plane crash. The man who found her thought she was dead so put her in the boot of his car and drove her lifeless body to the undertaker's, only to discover her body wasn't lifeless at all; she was in a coma.

Betty Robinson awoke seven months later, spent the next six in a wheelchair and learnt to walk again over a gruelling two year period. Not content with that, she began racing again.

Despite her injuries preventing her from adopting the sprinter's crouch, she was able to hold a baton, and in Berlin in 1936 she claimed her second gold medal as part of the 4x100m relay team.

And so to the gold medal story itself; arguably one of sport's all-time greats. Modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre du Coubertin believed the perfect athlete was made up of not only physical skill and ability but also strong moral fibre, the ultimate test of which was the Modern Pentathlon; shooting, swimming, fencing horse riding and running.

When the Rome Olympiad rolled around in 1960, Tunisia sent three Modern Pentathletes to compete in what would turn out to be one of the worst team performances in sporting history.

The riding event was first up with the three Tunisians making a complete mess of things by all falling off their mounts, earning a hitherto unheard of score of zero. In the swimming event they discovered one of their team couldn't actually swim and almost drowned! The others got them on the points table though.

Unlike riding and swimming, the Tunisians weren't that bad at shooting, but alas disgraced themselves there as well and had to be removed after one of them almost shot an official. Next up was fencing, but only one of the Tunisians could fence.

Their solution? Send the same bloke out three times with his helmet on and hope no one would notice. They did. And so to the finale, the cross-country run. Remarkably they didn't balls this up, however they did come dead last.

In a field of 58, the Tunisians finished 56th, 57th and 58th in one of the worst performances, yet greatest tales, in Olympic history!