The Roar
The Roar


35 days to Rio: Eric the Eel

Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea was an overnight celebrity after his efforts at the Sydney Olympics. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, POOL)
1st July, 2016

The Olympic motto may be “faster, higher, stronger” but often it’s the true amateur moments that the world embraces.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000 a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea competed and he captured the spotlight. He couldn’t swim fast. In fact, he could hardly cover the 100-metre event he’d entered. Somehow though it didn’t matter. His name was Eric Moussambani, or ‘Eric the Eel’ as he quickly became known.


Moussambani won right to compete at an exhibition level of developing nations who didn’t have access to world-class facilities.

In his race there were only two other swimmers involved, but both subsequently false started, leaving Moussambami in a one-man race against the clock.

The world record for 100-metres freestyle at the time was 47.84 seconds. Eric the Eel thrashed his way to the finish and gave it everything he had. With the crowd urging him on, Moussambami stopped the clock at 1 minute 52.72 seconds.

Roy & HG summed up the moment brilliantly on the popular TV show The Dream by showing Moussambami had broken the ‘Equatorial Guinea’ world record.

After the event journalists rushed to find out more about the man. Eric the Eel had never seen a 50-metre pool before Sydney. He’d only been swimming for eight months and he was just happy to be there, which is why his story resonated with so many watching on.


“I was training by myself, in the river and the sea. My country did not have a competition swimming pool, and I was only training at the weekends, for two hours at a time. I didn’t have any experience in crawl, breaststroke, or butterfly. I didn’t know how to swim competitively,” Moussambami said.

“The Olympic Games was something unknown for me. I was just happy that I was going to travel abroad and represent my country. It was new for me. It was very far from Africa.”

With better training Moussambani cut a massive slice of his personal best and broke the minute barrier (a time good enough to break the world record in 1924!) but was denied entry at the 2004 Olympics due to a visa mix-up. He eventually went on to coach the Equatorial Olympic swimming team, but will always go down in Olympic folklore.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian