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18 Sep 1988
Seoul 1988

Butterfly star Nesty sparks joy in tiny Suriname

Not many sporting events have the capacity to catapult athletes from relative obscurity to international superstardom quite like the Olympic Games.

Suriname had little Olympic pedigree going in to the 1988 Games in Seoul, in fact it had none. Not a single athlete from the tiny tropical nation off the South American coast had won a medal at any Games.

But a 21-year-old swimmer called Anthony Nesty put an end to that dismal run in the most unexpected and life-affirming way imaginable.

Nesty was brought up in a country whose population was a little over 350,000 and boasted just one 50-metre swimming pool. The lack of facilities and competition forced him to relocate to the United States where he trained at the University of Florida.

He failed to qualify for the 100m butterfly final at Los Angeles in 1984 but he gradually started the improvement which moved him into the world class bracket.

Nesty won the gold at his specialist event at the 1987 Pan-American Games but by the time the Seoul final came around he raced in the shadow of American Golden Boy Matt Biondi.

Biondi would leave South Korea with five gold medals but a sixth had looked a certainty as he stormed into a sizeable lead in the closing stages of the 100m butterfly at the Jamsil swimming arena.

Yet the American timed his surge for the wall poorly, choosing to glide rather than kick from some distance out, allowing Nesty to touch home first by one hundredth of a second.

Neither swimmer could believe the scoreboard when they looked up, with Nesty having recorded a new Olympic record time of 53 seconds dead.

Thousands lined the streets of Suriname to greet their conquering hero; a new set of coins and postage stamps commemorated his achievement, a plane was named after him and even a local sports stadium.

His star shone brightly, but briefly.

He won the world title in 1991 and after claiming a defiant bronze in the 1992 Barcelona Games he focused on swimming for the Florida Gators, for whom he has since become a distinguished coach.

He took up various coaching roles for his country and was even granted the honour of leading out the team at the 2008 Games opening ceremony in Beijing.

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