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Thu Apr 24 16:18:58 SAST 2014

Huge roar for rower who couldn't get much slower

Sapa-AFP | 30 July, 2012 08:580 Comments
Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka rows in the men's single sculls repechage at Eton Dorney during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012
Image by: Darren Whiteside / REUTERS

Niger’s first-ever Olympic rower may have finished way off the pace on Sunday, but then again 35-year-old Hamadou Djibo Issaka only took up the sport three months ago.

The former swimmer finished Saturday’s 2,000 metres single scull heat at Eton Dorney more than a minute behind his nearest rival — a huge margin in rowing terms — in a time of 8 min 25.56 sec.

And he fared even worse in Sunday’s second-chance repechage, finishing in 8:39.66 — but earning huge cheers from the 23,000-strong crowd for his efforts.

The crowd were on their feet for the last 500 metres and he was roared over the finish line, winning hearts at the lake west of London, with even the announcer urging: “you can do it!”.

“I have no technique; I only have strength,” said Djibo Issaka, who was competing on a wildcard.

“I have been rowing for only three months and now I’m at the Olympic Games.

“I’m happy I’m the first person from Niger to be rowing at the Olympic Games and there were so many people encouraging me.

“I was happy to finish under their applause. Really I’m happy for the whole country. I tried, I tried to make a good time.” 

Djido Issaka was the latest in a long-line of no-hopers who have embodied the motto of modern Olympic Games founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin that it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

They include Eric ’The Eel’ Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, who swam the 100m freestyle at the 2000 Games in Sydney in 1:52.72, more than twice the time of his faster competitors, and Eddie ’The Eagle’ Edwards, the British ski-jumper who finished last in both the 70m and 90m events at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.

Djibo Issaka took up rowing after being sent to Egypt for a fortnight to try the sport by the head of the Niger Swimming Federation.

Up until then, he had only ever seen rowing on television and he practised in boats made from local materials — not the cutting-edge carbon fibre shells used by the rest of the regatta.

But Djibo Issaka hopes his efforts will inspire others to take up rowing and boost the sport’s profile in his homeland.

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