Saturday 23 November 2019

Lonesome boatman: Rowing's 'Eric the Eel' is cult hero at London 2012 Olympics

Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka rows in the men's single sculls event at Eton Dorney
Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka rows in the men's single sculls event at Eton Dorney
Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka rows in the men's single sculls event at Eton Dorney
Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka rows in the men's single sculls event at Eton Dorney

FORTY-EIGHT hours after being launched to international fame, rowing's favourite sub-Saharan sculler was back.

Hammadou Djibo Issaka, the 35-year-old from landlocked Niger who lost his heat by a spectacular margin, received another rapturous ovation yesterday as he crossed the finish line even slower -- and again a distant last.

Where Djibo Issaka had finished Sunday's race in 8mins 39sec, he recorded a time of 9mins 7sec in the fifth-tier semi-final of the men's single sculls.

The gardener from Niamey, Niger's capital, has become a cult hero at Eton Dorney, with 25,000 fans on their feet to cheer his latest performance, as rowing's answer to 'Eric the Eel' trailed home 300m behind his nearest rival.

"It was because of the crowd that I finished," reflected Djibo Issaka, who also disclosed that he had fallen into the water the first time he tried to hold an oar last November.

"It will be hard for the rower from Niger to come back now," the announcer said, tongue in cheek, after a vast gap opened up after the first 200m.

Djibo Issaka has only three months' rowing experience, originally in traditional wooden fishing boats, having originally trained as a swimmer.

But the head of Niger's swimming federation ordered him to take up oars instead, to ensure Niger of an extra place at the Olympics.

Irish Independent

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