Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Athletes from Equatorial Guinea

It seems that at every Olympics there's one barely-prepared athlete whose stumble through his event catches the attention of the media. At the 2000 Sydney Games it was Eric "the Eel" Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, who competed in his heat alone after the two other competitors (they were all there under a funding program) were disqualified for false starts. His tenacity made him a crowd favourite, though his time would only be considered good if he was in his nineties, and spectators were worried that he might actually drown.

IOC president Jacques Rogge later said he wanted to put an end to so-called "wild card" entries who were barely capable of completing the event, which was opposed by those who saw such novelty acts as somehow being the epitome of the competitive spirit. My concern is that such competitors might help to reinforce the notion of the last-place finisher as laughingstock -- or at least as a non-serious competitor to be patronized rather than respected.

Moussambani was expected to compete again at Athens, but problems with his accreditation made him ineligible. Now attention is turning to one of his compatriots as "the next Eel" -- as though Equatorial Guinea was a fount of laughingstock athletes. Thanks to the wildcard lottery for smaller countries, Roberto Caracciolo is competing in the 1,500-metre track event. Problem is, he trained for the 3,000-metre steeplechase. He's feeling the pressure, especially since, he says, he's mistakenly seen as a potential medal contender in Equatorial Guinea, where he has not lived since childhood.

Equatorial Guinea has sent 11 athletes to Athens. None have yet finished in last place.

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