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Why I watch the Olympics

Hamadou Djibo Issaka

Hamadou Djibo Issaka, Niger (Photo: Darren Whiteside/Reuters)

(Updated July 29 at 1:20 pm MT)

Overlooked by American media yesterday, as far as I know, was Hamadou Djibo Issaka, a 35-year-old rower from Niger. He learned his sport just three months ago and earned a wildcard invitation to the London Olympics “to strengthen the principle of universal representation.”

He finished last in the single scull repechage*, barely managing to pull himself across the finish line in 8 minutes 39.66 seconds — almost 1.40 minutes behind the winner. But he won the hearts of the crowd who cheered him on and the announcer who, blessed with a microphone, yelled, “You can do it!”

This is what the Olympics are all about. My thanks to Kate Shrewsday, who attended the event (lucky woman) for bringing this to my attention.

P.S. AP did a more in-depth story on this that appears on the NBC Olympics website, where I must remember to look first for any story about the Olympics.

And my civics lesson for the day: Someone from Niger is a Nigerien (with an e); someone from Nigeria is a Nigerian (with an a). Djibo Issaka is from Niger.
*A trial heat (as in rowing) in which first-round losers are given another chance to qualify for the semifinals. From the French repêchage, second chance.


  1. I will never forget Gabriela Andersen-Schiess, the Swiss runner in the 1984 women’s marathon who staggered through the last 400 meters, refusing help, and the way the crowd cheered her on.

    • I like to think the Olympics bring out the best in all of us, the athletes and the spectators, and that was one of the great examples.

      Here’s a video of her finish:

      • Everyone who goes to the Naval Academy participates in a sport, every single term, no exceptions. I have never been superior at any particular sport, being tall and skinny, so I found myself in a category of similar plebes that first season, relegated to running sports. It was called “cross-country”, something in which the object seemed to be to run until you drop. I recall feeling a lot like PT’s video clip, so I can fully empathize with her. What I was to learn only later was that my lungs have fibrous scar tissue from some prior disease. No wonder I felt like I was going to die!

        I had tried “crew” the first summer. That’s short for “galley slave”. They fired me from that. What I ended up being best at was racquetball, but still no record-setter.

        • Sounds like the old PE requirements I had to fulfill in the same era. But I had some fun options. Riflery, camping, skiing (so bad they called me “Superskier”), field hockey (I was pretty good for someone who’d never played it before). Can’t say much for the folk dancing though. No track was offered, and no crew. Crew looks like fun, but yes, it does always remind me of the old Roman galleys. Except the singles and doubles; they remind me of water bugs. I don’t imagine the academy was about having “fun” with that sports requirement …

  2. These Olympics have created such mixed emotions for me. I do NOT like the fact that there are missiles on top of people’s apartments or flats or whatever they’re called in London. I do not like the fact that Dow Chemicals is a sponsor. The Olympics have become so political, not that they haven’t been in the past, but just so much “louder” in politics now – or I’m more aware of it, possibly. But…. the athletes. I love watching the competition. People who have worked their entire lives – or a majority of the lives – to excel in a sport to the level of being able to compete in the Olympics. It’s not their fault that the politics are sickening. They just want to compete. So, for them, I set aside my disdain and will support their efforts regardless of where they are from. That matters naught to me.

    • I was absolutely appalled when I heard about missiles on rooftops! I can’t imagine why (a) they were even considered necessary (planes attacking the Olympics sounds pretty far-fetched)) or (b) they couldn’t find public areas or buildings to accommodate them. As for sponsors, they probably take whatever sponsorships they can get because of the cost, and every company under the sun probably gets into it because of the publicity. But it is all about the athletes, after all, even if many of them these days are pros. They still have to do the work, get the training, develop the skill. No one else can step in and do it for them.

Now that I've had my say ...

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