Issaka provides inspirational story
Niger rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka only learned how to row three months ago – yesterday the 35 year old finished dead last in his heat of the Men’s Single Sculls with a time of 8:25.56.
Issaka was over a minute slower than the El Salvadorian rower who was second last and has already earned several nicknames: “Issaka the Otter” and “Hamadou The Keel” have been tossed around by the media.
Former British Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave has written to the rowing governing body, criticising the presence of Issaka.
“You’ve got to be encouraging more countries to get involved but there are better scullers from different countries who are not allowed to compete because of the different countries you’ve got” – Redgrave’s comments following the race.
However, Djibo Issaka received a wildcard entry, and therefore was not taking the place of another athlete.
It reignites the debate – are these athletes on the threshold of the sport making a mockery of the Games? Does it spit on the Olympic motto of swifter, higher, stronger?
Well, really we need to acknowledge the magnitude of the effort Djibo Issaka produced, and put it in context.
Niger is a country where the incentive to compete as an athlete is bound by a distinct luck of funding. Niger is land-locked and four-fifths desert, hardly ideal for rowing. You can never underestimate the success in water-sports from land-locked nations, such as Switzerland in the 2003 America’s Cup.
Niger sent six athletes to the 2012 London Games, all 6 marched in the opening ceremony. Djibo Issaka was advised not to attend the opening ceremony due to his race being on the following day.
Issaka chose to honour his people and attend.He arrived in Eton Dorney (the home of rowing for the games) at 3a.m., only a hours before his race.
Meanwhile, numerous athletes that were to compete in the afternoon of Saturday still skipped the Opening Ceremony.
After finishing his race, a smile was present on the face of Issaka. It was a rare moment of a joy; if not for the games, he would lead a largely insignificant life back in Niger.
These athletes may not match their American, Chinese or Russian counterparts on the water or on the track, but in the face of adversity they have had to go through just to get to the Olympics, they have inspired their nation, and not just for the few minutes they compete.
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