Olympics newsletter

Article

Youngest Olympian makes wide-eyed debut

Agence France-Presse
August 15,2008

Antoinette Guedia Mouafo of Cameroon, 12, the youngest competitor at the Beijing Olympics, prepares to make her debut on Friday. She finished fourth in her heat.   Photo: AFP

Antoinette Guedia Mouafo of Cameroon, 12, became the Games' youngest competitor on Friday, racing in a 50m pool for the first time as she contested the women's 50m freestyle heats.

"It's amazing to swim in an Olympic-size pool," said the youngster, who stepped professionally onto the starting block, grasped the front edge and took the plunge.

"It's true, I have never swum in a 50m pool, I usually swim in a 20m or 25m one."

She admitted that she found the experience, before 17,000 fans at the Water Cube where her age was pointed out to the crowd, daunting.

"It's impressive, it's nice, but I am a bit shy, so this is not easy for me," she said. "Before I came, I didn't really know what the Olympics was. It is huge."

Guedia Mouafo finished a creditable fourth in her heat, in 33.59 seconds. It was the 83rd-fastest time out of 90 starters and 9.39 seconds behind overall leader Cate Campbell of Australia, who at 16 is four years her senior.

Guedia Mouafo said she was introduced to swimming by her father when she was eight, in a hotel pool in Douala, Cameroon.

"My father wanted me to learn to swim, but it has turned into a sport for me," she said, adding that she trains in a 25m pool three to five times a week.

She said her "better than expected" performance had encouraged her to think she might like to be professional swimmer.

But she had no plans to forsake her other ambitions. "I still go to school," she added. "I would like to study medicine when I am older."

One of the best parts of competing in Beijing, she said, was a chance to meet her swimming idols, France's Coralie Balmy, Malia Metella and Laure Manaudou and Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry.

"It's great to meet the champions, the great swimmers, they are so big and so beautiful. I am very moved to be able to take part in my first Olympics," said Guedia Mouafo, who was presented with a massive bouquet of flowers after her swim by a French television channel and also interviewed by German television and a host of reporters.

"My family in Cameroon is very proud of me."

Copyright ©2008 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.