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He's My Kind of Guy

Every Olympic Games seems to produce a shining and marketable champion and sometimes an even more wonderful anti-hero. That has certainly been the case in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. In the spirit of Britain's Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards of the 1988 Calgary Games, newspapers and television have heralded the exploits of Eric "The Eel" Moussambani.

Eric is a 22-year-old student from a Maryland-sized country in western Africa, Equatorial Guinea. With a national population of 400,000, Equatorial Guinea formed its swimming federation less than a year ago and was able to send Eric to the Olympics under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don't meet the customary standards.

The federation has only two pools to use for training both at hotels and both much shorter than the Olympic standard of 30 meters. "I must have a ticket to get into the hotel," Eric explained. Thus his "training" consisted of three one- hour practices a week in a hotel pool. Hotel workers sometimes made it hard for him to practice. He only took up the sport in January of this year.

On Tuesday, September 19, Eric was poised to swim in his qualifying heat for the 100-meter freestyle. The starter's gun sounded, and the two other swimmers in his heat were disqualified for hitting the water too quickly. Now Eric would have to swim alone in a one-man race against himself.

Eric Moussambani was, to use the words of an Associated Press story about his race, "charmingly inept." He never put his head under the water's surface. With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some spectators thought he actually might drown! His time was a dismal 1:52.72 more than twice the time it took Aussie hero Ian Thorpe to swim his 100 meters.

But he's a hero by anyone's standards. He went to the Olympic Games. He competed with the world's best. Though he didn't class with the other swimmers involved, he won the hearts of millions simply by finishing the race. Commented Ian Thorpe of Eric Moussambani: "That's what the Olympics are all about!"

"I never swam the 100 meters before," Eric said. "All the clapping and all those voices making noise helped me finish."

If you are discouraged today, listen to the cheers of the great cloud of witnesses urging you on. God's own voice is in the chorus. You don't have to pace the field. You don't have to out-duel anyone. Just finish your race.

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