- Robel Habte, 24, was body-shamed after he appeared at the Rio Olympics sporting an unathletic paunch
- He was the target of much online criticism and dubbed 'Robel the Whale'
- After his lackluster performance, he famously retired from the pools
- But now Habte has made a U-turn, vowing to better his performance and return for the Tokyo Games
- He also set up the 'Robel the Whale Foundation' to help more Ethiopian swimmers compete and represent their country in the Olympics
The Ethiopian swimmer body-shamed and dubbed 'Robel the Whale' after a disaster in the Olympic pool has made a U-turn and will swim at the next games.
Robel Habte, 24, was so hurt and insulted by the global internet criticism he received that he vowed his Olympic days were over.
But he has decided to embrace the moniker given to him by internet trolls and hope for 'something positive and to help others.'
He has set up the 'Robel the Whale Foundation' to bring more Ethiopian swimmers to the Olympic pool in four years' time at the Tokyo games.
Much of the negative remarks were not only made against his physique, but also at claims that nepotism played a part in his Olympic inclusion, as his father is a member of the Ethiopian swimming federation.
But Habte said: 'I have to be strong and overcome what people say about me.
'I will take the cyber and verbal bullying that I received after the Rio Olympics and convert them into motivations, which will help me achieve my set of goals and become the best swimmer that I could be.'
'I am not that fat, but I do not have the right body for swimming now. But I will show them and I will help other swimmers from my country too.'
Ethiopia does not have an Olympic size 50m pool. Habte wants to raise funds so that better training facilities will mean stronger Olympic swimmers in four years.
'I have been hurt, but I can be stronger and fitter and stop the laughing that people have done,' he said
'With my foundation, I hope that people in Ethiopia will get the chance to train in a proper swimming facility that I was not able to receive.
'I want to see more swimmers from my country, but I do not want them to be scared that they will be called fat and abused like I have been.'
Habte appeared in one event in Rio 2016 and achieved worldwide fame for his persistence — as well as infamy his body shape.
The furniture shop owner, who was making his first appearance at the Olympics, finished half-a-lap behind his two rivals in the 100m freestyle heats.
By the time he had emerged for air from his opening dive off the blocks in the 100 meters freestyle heats, he was already almost a body length behind. It did not get better from there.
The only one of the 59 entrants in the heats not to complete the distance in under a minute, Habte touched the wall with a time 17 seconds slower than Australian pacesetter Kyle Chalmers, who clocked 47.90 seconds.
Habte's only rivals in the three-man opening heat, Thibaut Danho of the Ivory Coast and Johnny Perez Urena of the Dominican Republic, had removed their caps and were leaning on the lane markers as he trailed in more than 12 seconds behind.
When they finished, he was half a lap behind.
The crowd, recognizing the effort, raised a cheer for him for staying the course in a similar way Eric the Eel was cheered in Sydney 2000 as a distinguished loser.
But the internet was open to critics who fat slammed him and joked about his weight.
He admitted he was ‘too fat for the Olympics’, but blamed his excess weight on a car crash.
He said the injuries he received as he drove his Rav 4 in Addis Ababa sidelined him for two months in which he gained 40kgs in flab.
'I am now around 82kgs and that is still much.
'I should be 72 or 74kgs when I swim. But I could not manage it. My girlfriend Selam was telling me I had to lose weight, but I could not do it all.'
Habte fought to lose the weight in the run up to Rio, but didn’t quite manage to shake it off.
He said he had been hurt by some of the remarks comparing him to a whale and had stopped reading his Facebook page and Twitter.
He added: 'They have used dirty language against me and called me fat and a big man and a whale.
'But I will lose the weight and I will be fit and ready for more swimming competitions.
'I was against going to Tokyo, but I have to prove myself and I have to show people that I can swim fast. I hold Ethiopian national swimming records.
'Ethiopia is not a swimmer's country and I have not trained in an Olympic size pool,' Habte added.
'My country is famous for runners. I wanted to be famous for being a swimmer.'
He initially said the experience was enough to stop him competing in Tokyo in 2020 at the next Olympics, but he had changed his mind ‘to show the world.’
His disaster in the Olympic pool was compared to the experiences of of Eric Moussamban from Equatorial Guinea who rose to global fame at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
He swam his heat of the 100m freestyle in 1:52.72. a time which was more than double that of his faster competitors.
He was quickly dubbed ‘Eric the Eel’ and lauded for his efforts in finishing despite the race being long over.
Habte said: ‘My dream is more than a personal achievement — it is about surging national pride.'