DORNEY, England, July 31 (Reuters) - Niger’s Hamadou Djibo Issaka, the novice rower who has earned comparisons to the slow swimmer Eric “The Eel”, vowed to improve on Tuesday after again finishing last in an Olympic semi-final that was some 28 seconds slower than his previous race.
Djibo Issaka has won huge support from the mostly British crowd in his three races at the Olympic regatta, with the commentator encouraging him down the course on Tuesday as the 35-year-old lagged the field by 300 metres on the 2,000m course.
The sculler, dubbed by the British press as the “sculling sloth”, received a wild card to the Olympics, allocated to ensure all 204 National Olympic Committees can take part even if no athletes have qualified.
The gardener and swimming-pool attendant, who said he had only trained properly for three months before the Games, received a rapturous reception by the more than 20,000 spectators who yelled him on as he crawled over the finish line, before slumping over his oars and gasping for breath.
“I don’t have any technique,” the slight sculler told reporters after the race, fielding questions from what he had for breakfast to was he aware of his new found notoriety.
“I’ve been learning only three months. But with the time and the years, I’ll get the technique,” he said. “It’s all about courage. I‘m getting ready for (2016). The crowd encourage me and helps me finish the race.”
The commentator used the build up before the race to largely ignore the opposition and concentrate instead on some of the problems faced by Niger, ranging from what he described as a poor education system to a lack of infrastructure.
The west African nation of Niger, which has sent six athletes to London, is landlocked and 80 percent desert.
Ahmadou Youssoufou, a member of the Niger NOC and president of the water sports federation of Niger, told reporters they were very proud of their athlete’s efforts, especially as Niger lacks the correct boats to practise in.
“In the next Olympiad, in the next Games Hamadou will be stronger and faster,” he said.
“We don’t have any boats. No boats. We are getting two single sculls and two double sculls and some oars. They are coming in the next month so we can begin this sport in our country with the equipment.”
Djibo Issaka started out as a swimmer but switched to rowing and spent two weeks training in Egypt, two months in Tunisia, as his coach is Tunisian, and a week in Belgium.
He has been compared to one of the Olympic’s most famous underdogs, swimmer Eric “The Eel” Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, who became a sensation at Sydney.
Having trained for only eight months in a 20 metre-hotel pool, Moussambani swam his heat on his own after the other two competitors were disqualified for false starts and he flagged near the end, appearing to almost sink near the finish.
Roared on by the 17,000-strong crowd, his time of 1:52.72, was the slowest seen at an Olympics. (Editing by Matt Falloon)