24-year-old Ethiopian swimmer Robel Kiros Habte became an Olympic sensation Tuesday for all the wrong reasons.
Habte, who qualified for the Olympics because of a special invitation from FINA, swimming’s governing body, to athletes from under-represented countries, finished with the worst time of 59 swimmers in the 100-meter freestyle.
In his three-man heat, Habte — who also gained attention for his round physique — finished with a time of 1 minute, 4.95 seconds — 12 seconds behind Thibaut Danho of the Ivory Coast and Johnny Perez Urena of the Dominican Republic. He was 17 seconds slower than Australian leader Kyle Chalmers, who finished in 47.9 seconds.
Habte was the only swimmer to not complete the event in under a minute.
He instantly became a fan-favourite, drawing (somewhat unfair) comparisons to Eric “the Eel” Moussambani of Euqatorial Guinea, who finished with a time of 1:57 in the 2000 Olympics. The crowd began cheering for Habte as he approached the finish, with his competition already resting, waiting for him.
— Jai Bednall (@jaibednall) August 9, 2016
But if you think Habte is upset by his poor performance, you’re wrong. In fact, his upbeat perspective makes the story all the better.
“I am so happy because it is my first competition in the Olympics,” Habte said (via Reuters). “So thanks for God.”
He continued, saying his goal was to stand out from his fellow countrymen.
“I wanted to do something different for my country, that’s why I chose swimming. Everybody, every day you wake up in Ethiopia, you run. Not swimming. But I didn’t want to run, I wanted to be a swimmer. It didn’t matter where I finished.”
Habte indeed is enjoying his time in the Olympics. On what appears to be his actual Facebook page, Habte has been showing off his Olympic experiences, like meeting Ryan Lochte, carrying the Ethiopian flag, and rocking Rio attire in general.
According to Reuters, Habte has no plans on competing again, but he’ll still always be an Olympian.
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