News Brief

This Ethiopian Olympic Swimmer Gets Fat-Shamed—But Haters Are Missing Something Important

It turns out Robel Kiros Habte father is Ethiopia’s swimming federation president.

The internet can be a foul place as Ethiopian Olympic swimmer Robel Kiros Habte found out after he finished a whole lap behind his competitors in the 100-meter freestyle heats at Rio’s Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Tuesday.


He finished at 1 minute, 4.95 seconds compared to Australian winner Kyle Chalmers’ 47.9 seconds making him number 59 out of the 59 swimmers in the heats. The moment was reminiscent of Olympic swimmer Eric the Eeel from Equatorial Guinea who took twice as long as his rivals to finish the same race, though he set a record for  his personal best at the 2000 Sydney games.

Habte didn’t seem too embarrassed by his performance, saying “Everybody, every day you wake up in Ethiopia, you run. Not swimming. But I didn't want to run, I wanted to be a swimmer.” Continuing, "It didn't matter where I finished," which makes a valid point considering only an estimated 10,000 Olympians participate in the games every four years—that’s a 1 in 562,400 chance of even showing up.

The 24-year-old university student received cheers from the Brazilian crowd, but the Twitterati was not impressed. Some stated the obvious, dubbing the 179-pound Ethiopian swimmer’s stout stature,  the “dad bod” and nicknaming him “Robel the Whale.”

Others cracked jokes in videos:

And some wanted to know how in the heck Habte qualified for the Olympics in the first place, until it was revealed that he may have been there to fulfill his African father’s dream who just so happens to be the Ethiopian swimming federation president, Kiros Habte Kinfe.

It’s alleged that Habte (or his father on his son’s behalf) secured an invite from the Tripartite Commission, which allocates spots for athletes from under-represented countries that have less than eight athletes. If that is the case, then it's a gigantic red flag for corruption within Ethiopian athletics.

This development could explain why Habte was simply happy to be there.

Interview

Interview: The Awakening of Bas

We talk to Bas about The Messenger, Bobi Wine, Sudan, and the globalized body of Black pain.

The first thing you notice when you begin to listen to The Messenger—the new investigative documentary podcast following the rise of Ugandan singer, businessman and revolutionary political figure Bobi Wine—is Bas' rich, paced, and deeply-affecting storytelling voice.

Whether he is talking about Uganda's political landscape, painting a picture of Bobi Wine's childhood, or drawing parallels between the violence Black bodies face in America and the structural oppression Africans on the continent continue to endure at the hands of corrupt government administrations, there is no doubt that Bas (real name Abbas Hamad) has an intimate understanding of what he's talking about.

We speak via Zoom, myself in Lagos, and him in his home studio in Los Angeles where he spends most of his time writing as he cools off from recording the last episode of The Messenger. It's evident that the subject matter means a great deal to the 33-year-old Sudanese-American rapper, both as a Black man living in America and one with an African heritage he continues to maintain deep ties with. The conversation around Black bodies enduring various levels of violence is too urgent and present to ignore and this is why The Messenger is a timely and necessary cultural work.

Below, we talk with Bas aboutThe Messenger podcast, Black activism, growing up with parents who helped shape his political consciousness and the globalized body of Black pain.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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