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Barila Bolopa paddles her way to Olympic stardom

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Latest: September 21, 2000 11:51 PM

SYDNEY, Sept 22 (AFP) - Paula Barila Bolopa became the second swimmer from Equatorial Guinea to paddle her way into the hearts of fans at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre here Friday.

"It was further than I thought," Barila Bolopa said of her first 50m freestyle race, which she completed in 1min 03.97sec without putting her face in the water. "I was tired."

The 20-year-old, who learned to swim in the river where she still does part of her training, was greeted by a mob of reporters, primed by the gutsy performance of her compatriot Eric Moussambani in the men's 100m freestyle on Tuesday.

As she stood dripping on the deck television cameras whirred and a Spanish radio reporter put her on the telephone live to Madrid.

Barila Bolopa's race was slightly less dramatic than Moussambani's, dubbed "Eric the eel" by the world's press. He swam alone after two men in his heat were disqualified.

But she got the same roar of support from the swimming connoseiurs in the stands as she battled to the finish -- 37.17 seconds behind Myanmar's Moe Thu Aung. World record-holder Inge de Bruijn led the heats with an Olympic record of 24.46sec.

"I wasn't in it for the race," Barila Bolopa said. "I'm here to train and learn how to swim better. I want to go to Athens and do better there.

Copyright © 2000 Agence France-Presse

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