I was going to call this post "Olympic medalists you've never heard of," although, of course, the better title would be, "Olympic medalists I've never heard of." But either way I'd be ending a sentence with a preposition, a big no-no for those of us who went to Catholic grammar school. Regardless, my point is that there are many, many stories of Olympians worth hearing that NBC just can't or won't take the time to tell.
Consider the case of this world class athlete who made her Olympic debut at the age of 24 in the Sydney Games, won a gold medal four years later despite training without a coach, dropped out of international competition for nearly three years to have a baby and go to college, and then made history last weekend as she became the first ever repeat champion in her event, only six months after her return to the sport. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Beijing Olympics triple jump champion Francoise Mbango Etone of Cameroon.
If the profile attached to the above link strikes you as somewhat thin (like marathon runner arms thin), don't bother checking over at NBC for more information. There are six entries mostly about medal counts when you search for Etone but no video and not even an action photo.
So, I spent a few extra minutes with my old pal the Internets, and I found a tale that Hollywood would be happy to grab and reshape beyond recognition into box office gold. (I also found Francoise Mbango Etone anagrams. My personal favorite: Boing! Feet on me can soar!) Now back to our story.
Before Etone came along, Cameroon had never had an individual gold medal winner. So, Cameroon's Olympic history is hardly a multivolume set, and the main entry is the men's soccer team, the Indomitable Lions, who upset soccer powerhouse Brazil on the way to a gold medal in Sydney in 2000. Because Cameroon is not the United States, the entire nation went bonkers for its soccer team, and it's hard for any other athletic news to break this stranglehold.
Etone's story is a mix of pure athletic achievement and backstage drama. For her first gold medal, she outjumped Athens' hometown favorite Hrysopiyi Devetzi. As I mentioned above, she trained without a coach, relying instead on advice from her younger sister, who had no experience in the event. This would be like Michael Phelps' mom telling him how to improve his flip turns.
Cameroon almost lost its champion before the Athens Games. A lack of training facilities and coaches took Etone to Paris in 2000. In France, she resisted pressure to change her nationality and compete for her host country. She also lived in the U.S., studying at St. John's University in 2005, and helped New York City make a bid to host the Olympic Games. Even after winning her gold medal last weekend she made sure to mention that she has no sponsor or contract. Anybody got Drew Rosenhaus's phone number?
Paris and New York must have also appealled to her fashion sense. In Athens, Etone shaved her head as a gesture of support to her ailing mother, and she made the bold fashion statement of a skirt in competition in Beijing. Also, she often braids her hair in the national colors of Cameroon. Hello, Project Runway?
For me, all that adds up to a story worth a closer look. I know NBC can't cover everything, but last night, I watched Mary Carillo's entertaining and informative report on acupuncture and Cris Collinsworth's treacly interview with Alicia Sacramone. Fine and good, I suppose, how about throwing together something for a champion with historic achievements?
Photo via Getty Images