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The Olympic longshots we love

hamadou djibo_issaka_10_08_12This year’s Olympics has marked some incredible achievements; an opening ceremony like no other, records smashed, and Team GB racking up the golds. But while we cheer on our national heroes, we can’t help but secretly root for the underdogs now and again.

At every Olympics, in among the glistening bodies of the super athletes, stand a few competitors who really don’t stand a chance. The Olympic wild card – given out so all 204 National Olympic Committees can compete, even when no athlete qualifies, means that not all participants are the best of their national bunch. And sometimes they’re just the only ones.

Who could forget past legends like Eddie the Eagle, the sole British applicant for the 1988 Winter Olympics ski jumping competition, whose staggering lack of success endeared him to people across the globe.

Or Eric ‘Eric the Eel’ Moussambani Malonga, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics, after taking up swimming only eight months before and practicing in a 20m pool at a hotel. Eric came in with a time of more than twice that of his faster competitors, but earned a win after his competitors were disqualified.

This year’s spontaneous entrant may not go down in the history books, but he is fast capturing our hearts. Niger rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka, or Issaka the Otter, as he is now affectionately known, had some 25,000 fans on their feet as he competed in the men’s single sculls at Eton Dorney last Friday. The 35-year-old only started rowing three months ago, practising in an old fishing boat, and came stone last by over an hour.

Just goes to show that it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Unless you’ve dedicated your life to your Olympic sport – then it probably is a little about winning. 

Picture credit: EMPICS Sport / PA Images

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