LONDON (Reuters) - It took Ganzi Mugula 12 years to get to the Olympics and when he finally made his debut in the pool on Thursday it lasted all of 27.58 seconds.
The Ugandan, a computer technician for Stanbic Bank in Kampala and his country’s team captain at the London Games as well as flag bearer, had hoped to go faster but was delighted nonetheless.
“I’ve just equalled the same time I swum in Shanghai at the world championships. I think it was nerves,” he said with a winning smile after his 50 metres freestyle heat.
“I felt this time I was fitter. I think psychologically I put too much pressure on myself. But it’s OK, I’m not disappointed. I’m an Olympian, that’s what counts.”
The heats for the 50 metres freestyle, the shortest distance of the competition in the simplest and fastest of stroke, are the ones with most wild cards from countries not usually associated with swimming.
Here were to be found men from Benin, the Central African Republic, Djibouti, Rwanda and Ethiopia as well as 33-year-old Mugala.
Many fans had not have even taken their seats in the Aquatics centre before the Games were over for the men in the early heats, and most would not have paid too much attention to them either.
It was scant reward for years of effort. Yet without men like Benin’s Wilfried Tevoedjre, whose time was almost 10 seconds slower than the world record, the Games would be a poorer place.
Mugula will never be racing stroke for stroke with the likes of Brazil’s Olympic champion and world record holder Cesar Cielo but he has swum in the same pool as them and lived his dream with pride.
“It has taken me 12 years to get to the Olympics,” he told Reuters, dripping gently on the tiles after his momentous dip with six of the 10 slowest swimmers in the event.
“I tried in Sydney, it didn’t work. I tried in 2004 in Athens, didn’t work. I tried in Beijing, didn’t work. I said this time it has got to work or never.”
His first two attempts failed, he said, because he had not taken on board exactly what he needed to do to qualify as a wild card. He blamed that on being distracted by having to earn a living.
“I am a very busy person. I work for a bank, I’m a mathematician and a computer scientist. I’m super-busy, writing code the whole night,” he explained.
“So to find time to train is very tough.
“I’m happy I qualified the fourth time lucky,” added Mugula. “It’s a great satisfaction. Now I can go and party.
“It’s worth all the effort. Medal or no medal, I’m a winner. Sport is about friendship, and I’ve made friends.”
A former 400m runner, whose uncle Benjamin Nduga competed at the 1956 Olympics, he switched to swimming in 1999. He has swum in three all-Africa Games, two Commonwealth Games and three world championships.
His travel is paid for by world body FINA but he knows exactly how much it costs to swim with the best.
“These cost $358,” he said, patting his tight trunks. “I dive in and I’m done for 20 something seconds. If you tell someone the cost they think you’re mad.”