Lifestyle & Belief

Sculling Sloth is Eric the Eel of 2012 London Olympics


Hamadou Djibo Issaka of Niger competes in the Men's Single Sculls repechage on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Eton Dorney on July 29, 2012 in Windsor, England.


Alexander Hassenstein

The 2012 London Olympics has its “Eric the Eel” or “Eddie the Eagle,” he is Hamadou Djibo Issaka – a 35-year-old rower from Niger who took up the sport three months ago.

He generated a rousing, standing ovation at the Games today despite finishing one minute 39 seconds behind the winner.

Despite being utterly exhausted after limping to the line, he was grinning afterwards.

“There were so many people encouraging me,” he said, The Daily Mail reported. “I was happy to finish under their applause. Really, I’m happy for the whole country.”

The less sensitive British media dubbed him “The Sculling Sloth,” while others opted for a more polite “Issaka the Otter” or the “Novice from Niger.”

Issaka competed in London thanks to a wild card from the International Olympic Committee’s Tripartite Commission, which facilitates participation from all countries.

While England’s greatest Olympic champion, Sir Steve Redgrave, said he believed Issaka took the place of a more qualified athlete, rowing’s governing body was happy with the attention.

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“We are so proud,” FISA executive director Matt Smith told The Associated Press. “It’s given us a new country, and a big boost. As far as rowing is concerned, it’s fantastic. And we are really happy about the response from the spectators.”

The IOC later clarified that Issaka’s position wasn’t at the expense of any other athlete.

Niger is a landlocked African nation, and Issaka was a swimmer until his national sports body suggested he try rowing.

He’s now Niger’s national rowing champion.

“There are many people who want to start rowing because I have come to the Olympic Games,” he told Reuters. “We will start when I get back. We just have to wait for the boats to arrive.”

Issaka is following the trend made famous by athletes such as the Jamaican bobsled team and ski jumper Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Eric “the Eel” Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, flailed his way to the finish line in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

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