Rio 2016: The Olympic swimmer who's – very slowly – becoming crowd favourite
'I wanted to do something different for my country, that’s why I chose swimming. It didn't matter where I finished'
A people’s favourite of the Rio Olympics has emerged.
Ethiopian swimmer Robel Kiros Habte, who possesses a figure that some have noted isn't quite as athletic as some of the other swimmers, has won the adoration of fans despite posting very slow times.
His quick rise to prominence has raised comparisons to Equatorial Guinea's Eric Moussambani, the crowd favourite of the Sydney 2000 Olympics known as 'Eric the Eel'.
Mr Habte’s countrymen are more traditionally associated with long distance running and other land based sports – the country has no coastal border – but the swimmer and university student gave it his best effort in heats for the 100 metres freestyle event.
"I am so happy because it is my first competition in the Olympics," he said. “So thanks for God."
He made it into the competition after being invited through a scheme designed to encourage the participation of athletes from developing countries which lack sports infrastructure. However, some Ethiopian nationals claimed on social that Mr Habte’s father is head of the national swimming association, perhaps explaining his selection.
The East African nation has seen mass protests against the government in recent days and scores of people have been killed in a crackdown.
Mr Habte continued: "I wanted to do something different for my country, that’s why I chose swimming," he said. "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."
With a time of 64:95 seconds, Mr Habte came in half a length later than everyone else in the three-man race. He did not reach his personal best of 59:08 and was slower than the pacesetting swimmer, Australian Kyle Charmers, by 17 seconds. Despite this, Mr Habte was given a rapturous applause by the audience.
He also became a favourite on social media.
'Eric the Eel' swam the 100 metres freestyle in 01:52.72 in Sydney 16 years ago - much more slowly that Mr Habte. However, he had never swum in an Olympic pool before the Games. He was later made head coach of Equatorial Guinea’s national swimming team.