The athlete representing the West African country Niger at the rowing competition was cheered to the finish line 1 minute, 40 seconds behind the winner. Although he came way behind his fellow competitors, he got the biggest applause from the crowd.
According to Reuters, his time was 8 minutes 39.66 seconds. The announcer yelled "You can do it," as Djibo Issaka approached the finish while the crowd of 20,000 waved flags and cheered him to the finish.
After he crossed the line, he slumped over in his boat exhausted, but a few seconds later, he lifted up his head and with a wide grin, acknowledged the cheering crowd.
According to AP, Isaka, 35, learned how to row only three months ago and has a technique that can best be described as "crude."
Speaking in French to AP, he said, grinning ear-to-ear, "It went well. I passed the finish line. It was great."
It was obvious to everyone that Issaka was not Olympic class. But why was he at the Olympics rowing competition? Well, in a sense he is the West African champion.
AP reports that the athlete, whom the British media have dubbed the "sculling sloth," was allowed to compete because the rules allow each National Olympic Committee to enter up to five athletes for the Summer Games. Issaka really is a swimmer. His first contact with a scull was in May when the Niger Swimming Federation sent him to Egypt to try his hands on rowing. Then he went to Tunisia for more training at the International Rowing Development Centre. His rowing experience totaled 3 months when he appeared at the Olympics.
After he finished last, he said: "I I tried to make a good time." But he barely managed to finish the race, struggling and grimacing in pain as he covered the last meters, his head actually rolling at the effort. He said: "There were so many people encouraging me. I was happy to finish under their applause. Really, I'm happy for the whole country."
AP reports that while Issaka appears to be having the time of his life, some are not happy to see him at the Olympics. Sir Steve Redgrave, five-time Olympic rowing gold medalist, said: "There are better scullers from different countries who are not allowed to compete because of the different countries you've got." Matt Smith, general secretary of the rowing's governing body FISA, scolded Redgrave, saying: "It's a fair comment if you don't have the background to how these rowers get those positions and how big it is for a country to be at Olympic Games."
Smith said he wrote to Redgrave on Sunday, explaining how Issaka made it to the Olympics. According to Smith, Issaka had not taken the place of more worthy scullers, he was simply added to the list. Smiths said: "We are so proud. It's given us a new country, and a big boost. As far as rowing is concerned it's fantastic. And we are really happy about the response from the spectators."
Reuters reports Djibo Issaka echoed Smith's views, saying that his appearance marks the start of a new era for rowing in his country. He said: "There are many people who want to start rowing because I have come to the Olympic Games. We will start when I get back. We just have to wait for the boats to arrive."
Fans will be seeing more of the sculler. He won't be returning to his country until August 14. On Tuesday, he will be competing to determine the lesser positions. Issaka is looking forward to the challenge. He said: "I'm preparing for the next competition. I'm happy with how things have gone."
He attended the Olympic opening ceremony against advise. He was fascinated by the fireworks. He said: "It was magnificent. I had never seen fireworks before in my life!"
Issaka's performance follows in the footsteps of the British ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, who became a star after finishing a distant last at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. There also was Eric "The Eel" Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, who treated the world to his special freestyle technique at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 coming in last at twice the time of the winner.