‘A hapless attempt at swimming’: media representations of Eric Moussambani

John Nauright, Tara Magdalinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most powerful images to emerge from the pool at the Sydney 2000 Olympics was that of Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea who swam his heat of the 100-meter freestyle alone after the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified. Moussambani completed the distance over one minute slower than eventual gold medallist Pieter van den Hoogenband. The media coverage of Moussambani's performance illustrates that the discourses of colonialism, paternalism, and racial stereotyping remain central in the modern Olympic movement. This paper analyses media reports of Moussambani and identifies three main frames used to contextualize his performance at the Olympics. We situate Moussambani's swim within a broader framework that reveals the mechanisms used to display African bodies for the European gaze as well as the paternalist Olympic discourse that seeks to universalize Western sporting practices within a global culture that privileges Western cultural and economic practices. Eric Moussambani is a swimmer. His event is the 100-meter freestyle. Evidently freestyle is a loose term. He comprises half his nation's entire swimming team and one quarter of its entire Olympic contingent. He is from the Olympic powerhouse nation of Equatorial Guinea. Where? You know, the small country in the Gulf of Guinea where Africa's West coast elbows south … no? Not ringing any bells? Well, with some deductive reasoning, one can conclude he is from a warm country, probably close to the equator, but there are still some questions about this guy. Sounds like a long distance runner, maybe a marathoner, or perhaps a boxer. But a swimmer? (Michael, 2000).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-122
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Arts: Journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


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