The athletes who make headlines at the Olympic Games are usually those who finish first, second, or third.
Not so for Ethiopian swimmer Robel Kiros Habte, who has captured spectators’ imaginations despite finishing 59th out of the 59 swimmers competing in the men’s 100 metre freestyle heats.
“I know my body is fat, but I will lose the weight and when I go to Canada for the World Championships… I will show them”
Robel Kiros Habte
The 24-year-old swimmer, who weighs 12.5 stone with a height of 5ft 9, doesn’t have the lean physique typically sported by swimmers, which has been the focus of some commentators.
South African commentator Harold Siyaya said: “How in the world did this Ethiopian swimmer qualify for the Olympics? Overweight and embarrassingly slow.”
Winning over fans
Despite the criticism, crowds in Brazil gave the swimmer a huge cheer when he finished the heat with a time of 1 minute and 4.95 seconds, seventeen seconds behind gold medalist Australian Kyle Chalmers.
“They have used dirty language against me and called me fat and a big man and a whale.”
Robel’s determination, particularly in a discipline in which Ethiopia does not usually excel, has won him plaudits.
“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. But I didn’t want to run, I wanted to be a swimmer. It didn’t matter where I finished.”
However, some have suggested he only qualified for the Olympics because of family connections. The President of the Ethiopian Swimming Federation, Kiros Habte Kinfe, shares the athlete’s surname.
Ethiopia: not a swimmers’ country
The Ethiopian swimmer told the Mail Online he was hurt by the comments about his body, and had gained weight after being injured in a car crash.
“They have used dirty language against me and called me fat and a big man and a whale,” he said.
“I know my body is fat, but I will lose the weight and when I go to Canada for the World Championships… I will show them. Ethiopia is not a swimmers’ country and I have not trained in an Olympic size pool.
“[Other competitors] were swimming 47 seconds times and I had never done that. So how could I have won gold?”
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