In a country besotted by distance running, Robel Kiros Habte took up sprint swimming regardless of non-athletic and unfit shape

An Ethiopian swimmer’s labored finish to his 100m freestyle heat at the Rio Olympics has evoked memories of ‘Eric the Eel’ from Sydney in 2000.

Robel Kiros Habte touched the wall half a lap behind the last competitor to finish in 1 minute, 4.95 seconds. The slowest time to qualify for the top 16 was 48.58.

But compared to ‘Eric the Eel’, Eric Moussambani Malonga from Equatorial Guinea, Robel Kiros Habte set a blazing pace.

It was later revealed that it was the first time he had seen a 50-metre pool, having done his preparation in a lake and a 12m pool.

But that has not stopped the spot light falling on Robel Kiros Habte. In a country besotted by distance running, he took up sprint swimming.

“Everybody knows we like running. All the people like running,” Robel Kiros Habte said.

“I don’t like running. I want to be different in my country, that is why I choose it. I just love swimming.”

The 24-year-old is one of two Ethiopian swimmers at the Rio Games, the other is Rahel Gebresilassie in the women’s 50m freestyle.

They both received what is termed a universality invitation from swimming’s world governing body FINA to compete in Rio.

And Robel Kiros Habte couldn’t be happier.

“My best time is 59.59 seconds,” he said.

“For Olympics, my first one, I am so happy. For all the sportsmen, the Olympics are big. So to be [in] competition in the Olympics, I am so happy.

The Daily Mail has already dubbed him “Robel the Whale“.

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