Niger rower trained in fishing boatAgence France-Presse . Eton, United Kingdom
Niger’s first-ever Olympic rower trained in a fishing boat and fell into the water the first time he stepped into the real thing.
Hamadou Djibo Issaka, who only took up rowing in May, has become a rock-solid fans’ favourite at the Olympics, despite finishing way off the pace in all three races so far.
The 35-year-old, a former national 50m freestyle swimmer, may have been unperturbed when he fell out of his boat and is somewhat out of his depth at the Eton Dorney rowing venue, west of London.
But the crowds have warmed to his Olympic spirit and gritty determination and taken him to their hearts, roaring him on to the finish line in the 2,000m single sculls.
His times are getting slower—he clocked 8:25.56 in Saturday’s heat, 8:39.66 in the repechage on Sunday, and 9:07.99 on Tuesday.
The wildcard has one race left to go as the bottom places out of 33 are decided—not that the result will be in doubt.
‘I’m very happy with the attention I’m getting. It gives me a lot of courage,’ he said.
‘It is fantastic to see the reaction of the crowd. The reception they give me helps me to finish the race.’
He was sent to Egypt for a fortnight to try out rowing and finishing sixth in his first race, before returning to landlocked Niger to train in a fishing boat.
‘When I first got into a rowing boat I fell into the water. But as I am a good swimmer, so it was no problem,’ he laughed.
‘Before this week, I hadn’t been in an Olympic boat before because there aren’t these kind of boats in Africa,’ he said.
‘I don’t know any techniques as I have only been rowing for three months. I saw it on television but I hadn’t seen it in real life.
‘I have rowed 2,000m around six or seven times—my best time was 8:25.
‘It is all about courage.’
Whatever happens, London 2012 has been an eye-opening experience for the father of two, who works as a gardener and swimming pool cleaner.
‘I really enjoyed the opening ceremony because I saw things I had never seen before, like the fireworks,’ he said.
‘It is something I will never forget.’
Niger should be getting its first delivery of proper rowing equipment in August after the Olympics, with the sport’s governing body sending four boats and some oars.
Djibo Issaka is hoping to spearhead growth in the sport and is targeting the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.
He admitted it gets lonely at the back of the race.
‘I’m used to it,’ he said.
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