120 Years, 120 Stories (Part 40) : Suriname’s dramatic glory at Seoul 1988


Tired of reading stuffs about legends of the Games – especially the ones belonging from countries with rich sports cultivation at grassroots and winning medals at the drop of a hat? Well, truly 120 years, 120 stories deserve to put in a mention of those who completely belong to the opposite pole of the above tradition.

In this episode of our Olympics specials, meet the 1988 Seoul Olympics gold medal winner of the 100m butterfly from Suriname – Anthony Nesty. Significantly, he remains to this day the only medal winner from the South American country which do not usually send more than 4-5 participants at the quadrennial meet every time since 1960.

Nesty was a Trinidad-born, USA-trained swimmer who took the Seoul Olympics by surprise when he dramatically snatched the gold from the hot favourite American – Matt Biondi. In the qualifying heat, the Suriname star came first clocking 53.50 seconds. Next day in the final, all that he had in his mind was to ensure a podium finish. But as the race ensued, Nesty felt at home with the pool and when the game was into the last 40 metres, he started closing the gaps on Biondi and finally the race ended in a photo-finish at the last 10 metres.

As both of them were closely inspecting the leaderboard, the Suriname swimmer was adjudged to have got the better of his American rival by just one-hundredth of a second. And with this win – an Olympic record clocking 53 seconds – Nesty became a household name back home. The 20-year old who made his Olympic debut in Los Angeles four years back to bow out at the qualifiers this time showed tremendous improvement owing to his routine training drills at Florida.

Nesty’s path-breaking glory was celebrated for two weeks at the economically-inflated Suriname. Soon he was rewarded with various honours – the most significant ones being naming of a stadium after him and use of his photo on notes, coins and stamps.

In Nesty’s own words, “It was 53 seconds where they had something to cheer about rather than to be stressed about… As a country it was a blessing for those people to have something they could cherish and take as something of their own.”

Nesty was one of the only four athletes to represent Suriname at Seoul. The flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 never attended the occasion in his playing days. The humble-natured personality who believed himself “lucky” enough to touch the wall first also did feature in the 200m butterfly at the Korean autumn but came last in the final. He represented the Atlantic nation for the last time at the Barcelona Games in 1992 to finish with a bronze.

The two medals that Anthony Nesty won at the Olympics were all that the once Dutch-ruled colony could win till date. In real life, the star is as modest as never to have done any commercials or celebrity TV shows. Ending my piece with a quote from the living legend himself that is a testimony to his sober nature – “For me it’s more about seeing other people doing the same thing I did… Those people who come from less fortunate countries or less fortunate socio-economic backgrounds, to see that happen is a reminder of what I’ve done to give those people hope.”

Photo by D-Stanley