When ‘Eric the Eel’ captivated the Sydney Olympics

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Eric Moussambani had never been in an Olympic-size pool when he arrived in Australia for the 2000 Sydney Games, his first time outside of Equatorial Guinea.

Imagine his thoughts, then, after the other two swimmers in his 100m freestyle first-round heat false-started, leaving Moussambani to swim alone. To swim farther than he ever had before. And to do it in front of thousands of people at the Sydney Aquatic Centre.

Moussambani, who had trained for three months in a hotel pool no bigger than 20 meters, struggled to complete the distance. So much that people near the pool reportedly contemplated diving in to rescue him in the final meters. The crowd, noticing an Olympic moment, roared in support.

He eventually touched the wall in 1:52.72, the slowest time in Olympic history and more than 50 seconds behind the slowest swimmer of the rest of the heats.

Moussambani became a media sensation. He was given a nickname: Eric the Eel, reminiscent of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who finished last at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.

“I didn’t know how to speak English back then. People were saying I was a star,” Moussambani said in 2012, according to CNN. “But I didn’t know what to do. A lot of people were making fun of me, others were congratulating me.”

Moussambani made it to the Olympics under universality rules allowing small nations that didn’t qualify any swimmers by time to still enter an athlete. Those universality rules have since been amended, requiring swimmers to compete in the prior year’s world championships to be eligible for the Olympics.

Moussambani went on to lower his personal best to 57 seconds. He hoped to compete in the 2004 Athens Games, but a passport issue reportedly kept him out. Moussambani later became a swim coach, though Equatorial Guinea hasn’t entered any swimmers at the Olympics since Sydney.

A pair of Olympic-size pools would be built in Equatorial Guinea, a West African nation the size of Massachusetts (but with one-fifth the population).

“Before, nobody knew me and now everyone does,” Moussambani reportedly said in 2000. “So this is good for me and my people.”

MORE: Most decorated U.S. female Olympian on front line of coronavirus fight

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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