n Critical Arts : A Journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies - 'A Hapless Attempt At Swimming' : representations of Eric Moussambani

Volume 17, Issue 1_2
  • ISSN : 0256-0046



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.

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