I am not much of a sports fan, but I do love the Olympics. It’s something about all the countries coming together for sport and not for more somber matters. I love the opening ceremonies, the pomp of the parade of nations, fascinating back stories, and the surprising fun of learning about new sports (Understand the rules of steeplechase, anyone?) and lesser-known countries (Do you know where Kirabati is?). I must have watched the Jamaican bobsled movie a hundred times when I was a kid.
So, when I read about Eric the Eel, it hit all my Olympic buttons. In the late 90s, the Olympic committees decided to bring the spirit of the Olympics to more developing nations and allowed competitors from those nations to enter, without having passed qualifying rounds.
In 2000, Eric Moussambani, from Equatorial Guinea, had only started swimming 8 months before -- on weekends in a river. He had never been in a pool at all until a month or two before the Olympics -- and had never been in an Olympic-sized swimming pool until his actual race. During his heat, the other two Wild Card swimmers were disqualified and so Eric swam alone -- dog-paddling and floundering and stalling out in the huge pool. Spectators cheered him along to the finish -- which he completed at more than double the time of the previous heat. Despite his long time, he was incredibly proud of his finishing his first 100-meter race.
He became an Olympic celebrity for his perseverance and character. And then, he learned even more and became the swim coach of Equatorial Guinea.
Eric the Eel got to compete in the Olympics despite most people thinking he couldn’t -- because he had high expectations for himself. Despite his lack of preparation, he busted his behind and not only competed in the Olympics, but learned the sport even better to become a coach!
And I hope those kids take what they learn from you and use it to help others down the line.
Reading-in-Social Studies Coach