Niger rower crawls home to roaring Olympic crowdJuly 30, 2012, 9:29 pm
by Steve Douglas
WINDSOR, England (AP) — Spectators jumped to their feet, roaring him to the line. "You can do it," screamed the announcer.
After hearing the finishing hooter, he slumped over in his boat, totally spent. After a few seconds, he lifted his head and saluted the crowd, with an ear-to-ear grin.
No, this wasn’t a British rower in a race for Olympic gold in front of his home fans. This was Hamadou Djibo Issaka, crawling to the finish in last place in a single sculls repechage.
Djibo Issaka is 35 years old and from Niger, in West Africa. He shouldn’t really be at the Olympics — he learned how to row only three months ago and has a technique that can best be described as ropey.
But there he was, under threatening skies, sloshing about in Dorney Lake in an orange and green shirt, pushing through the pain barrier like any other Olympic rower. He finished nearly 1 minute 40 seconds behind the race winner, but received one of the biggest rounds of applause of the day.
"It went well," he said in French to The Associated Press with a beaming smile. "I passed the finish line, it was great."
Move over, Eric the Eel. We now have Hamadou, "The Sculling Sloth."
Djibo Issaka was the beneficiary of a wild card to the regatta from the IOC Tripartite Commission, which allows each National Olympic Committee up to five athletes to participate at a summer games.
He is Niger’s national rowing champion, which speaks volumes given his limited experience.
"I have no technique," he says, "I only have strength."
Prior to May, he’d been nowhere near a single scull. He probably wouldn’t have known what one was. He was a swimmer and had only ever seen rowing on TV.
That all changed when he was sent to Egypt by the Niger Swimming Federation to try rowing. He then went for more training at the International Rowing Development Centre in Tunisia for two months.
With a spot in the Olympics now secured, his final low-key preparations took place in the Belgian town of Hazewinkel.
This week, the surroundings have been very different. The top leaders of sport in Niger were in the stands as he finished last in his heat on Saturday, clocking 8:25.56. He was 14 seconds slower a day later.
"I tried," he said. "I tried to make a good time."
His four rivals were stretching off in the warmup lake by the time Djibo Issaka approached the finish line. Maybe it was tiredness, but his technique was all over the place. He never came close to grinding to a stop but his head rolled as he sought a last drop of energy in the final 100 meters. He grimaced, he squirmed but the line came to his rescue.
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Last Updated May 21 2013 | 06:02 pm