Suriname– Home to Anthony Nesty
Suriname is a small country in the North of South America –surrounded by Guyana, Brazil, and French Guiana. It has a surface that is equal to Georgia (US State). With 500,000 inhabitants, it is one of the most sparsely populated nations on Earth. Its capital is Paramaribo. But there are other interesting facts about Suriname, of course. Most of the nation’s population is made up of people with Asian heritage. It is the only Dutch-speaking country in the Western Hemisphere after gaining its national independence from Netherlands in the mid-1970s. It is an ideal place for eco-tourists: More than 70% of the nation’s surface is covered by tropical forests –one of the highest on the Planet. Despite being a resource-rich country since its years as a dependency of the Kingdom of Holland, Suriname holds an international status as a least-developed nation in the Americas. This status has been largely produced by a history marked by internal conflicts, military coups, and corruption.
In the sports arena, the country’s major sports are soccer, followed by athletics, badminton, and basketball. Curiously, most of Holland’s athletes have Surinamese origin.On the international stage, Suriname was home to at least two world-class athletes throughout the 1980s and 1990s: Letitia Vriesde (middle-distance runner) and Anthony Nesty.
A Dark Horse Candidate
Millions learned about Suriname when in 1988 an unknown swimmer from that country obtained the Olympian title by defeating Matt Biondi of America in the men’s 100m butterfly at the Seoul Games. This discipline had been dominated strongly by the United States and Europe since 1896.
In South Korea, Nesty became the first black to join what has heretofore been an exclusive club of American/European swimmers (a feat unmatched in Olympic swimming competition). Nesty’s win was to Suriname what Mark Spitz’s 1972 seven gold medals was to Americans. But he also had other achievements in the world sports community. He is one of the few Latino athletes to win the most important titles on Earth: Olympic gold (Seoul 1988), World title (1991), and Pan American titles (1987 & 1991). Certainly, Suriname has not been blessed with modern facilities because of its poverty, but had one of the most sucessful athletes in the Third World in the 20th century. At the time, the country had only one 50-meter pool.
Within a span of five years, he was unbeaten in the men’s 100m butterfly by beating world-class swimmers from America, including Matt Biondi, becoming a much-needed inspiration to boys an girls in Latin America’s only Dutch-speaking country. In addition to this, he was the third swimmer from Latin America to receive the Olympian title. Curiously, he won more than 70 percent of the Surinamese medals in the 1980s.
Swimming in Latin America
Throughout the 20th century, Latin America had won several world titles and Olympic gold medals in sports such as athletics, basketball, boxing, football, judo, shooting, tennis, volleyball, but not in swimming. By 1928, Argentina’s Alberto Zorrilla won the gold at the Amsterdam Olympics, becoming the first Latino to win an Olympian title. Four decades on, a local athlete, Mexico’s Felipe Muñoz, became the second swimmer in the Spanish-speaking world to gain a gold in the Summer Games. Since that year until 1988, Latin America was unable to win an Olympic title in swimming. In the early 1970s, the Republic of Ecuador got bad news from Munich’72 when its international idol, Jorge Delgado Panchana, whose image was immortalized on a postage stamp by the Ecuadorian rule in the 70s, failed to win a medal upon finishing fourth in the men’s 200m butterfly behind three Americans (Mark Spitz, Gary Hall, and Robin Backhaus). In these years, he was Latin America’s top swimmer with two Pan American gold medals.
In the next Olympics in Canada, a Puerto Rican backstroker, Carlos Berrocal, also finished fourth. Eight years later, Brazilian Ricardo Prado was silver medalist in the Summer Olympics in Southern California following a triumph in the 1982 FINA World Championships in Guayaquil (Ecuador) and four medals, including two gold, in the 1983 Caracas Pan American Games. Also, in 1984, although, Colombia’s Pablo Restrepo began as one of the frontrunners, he finished sixth in the men’s 200m breaststroke despite the absence of several top-class swimmers from Eastern Europe and the USSR in the Los Angeles Olympics.
At the 1986 South American Championships
Suriname had not had a remarkable athlete until the mid-1980s when Anthony Conrad Nesty appeared on the international scene. Although he was born in the Caribbean island-nation of Trinidad & Tobago, very famous for its sprinters and cyclists, he swam under the flag of Suriname when he and his family moved to Panamaribo, the nation’s capital, in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, his performance quickly outpaced his teammates in his homeland of Suriname. After that, there were opportunities abroad.
At the age of 16, he arrived in Los Angeles to participate in the 1984 Games, where finished 21st in the men’s 100m butterfly and becoming the most outstanding national athlete here. Nesty was one of the nation’s five athletes in the United States. Curiously, he became one of the first foreign-born athletes to represent Suriname at the Summer Games. Over the nex year, he moved to Jacksonville (FL) to enter the Bolles School, where he trained with David Lopez-Zubero, among the top coaches in Florida.
During the first years of his swimming career, he also went to Madrid to attend the 1986 FINA World Chanpionships. Here, he became one of the world’s top five swimmers in the men’s 100m butterfly with a mark of 53.53 seconds. On Spanish soil, he became the first black to reach the finals in the Swimming World Championships. In the same year, he claimed a gold in the 100m butterfly at the FINA South American Contest in Peru’s capital city of Lima, setting a continental record of 54.75 seconds, while in the 200m butterfly, he received a bronze medal upon finishing third, behind Jose Umana of Venezuela and Uruguay’s Carlos Scanavino.
Before he reached the age of 20, in the pre-Olympic year 1987, the underdog athlete gave Suriname its first major international medal when he was the winner of a Pan American gold medal in Indianapolis (U.S.). In the multi-sport event, Nesty defeated North America’s swimmers in their own home, demonstrating that with passion, ambition, and determination one can accomplish anything. Additionally, he won a bronze in the men’s 200m butterfly. On U.S. soil, Nesty also attracted the world’s attention when he was the first black swimmer to win a title in the Pan American Games.
Olympic Memorable Moments: Nesty Vs Matt Biondi
By 1988, there were great news for Suriname and Surinamese people. Following a period of eight years of military dictatorship, the South American republic, ex Dutch Guiana until 1975, began a new democratic regime. Secondly, at the 1988 Seoul Games, the country’s Olympian athlete Anthony Conrad Nesty, fluent in English and Dutch, shocked the world sports by winning the men’s 100m butterfly by one-hundredth of a second and after his historic victory over Matt Biondi of the United States. Biondi finished with a time of 53.01 and Great Britain’s Jameson with 53.30 seconds. On the other hand, Nesty’s time broke the Olympian record of 53.08 set by West Germany’s swimmer Michael Gross at the Los Angeles Olympics four years earlier. His Olympic record would remain unbroken until the mid-1990s when Russia’s swimmer Denis Pankratov set a new mark of 52.27 seconds at the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta, U.S.
On South Korean soil, he also placed 8th overall in the men’s 200m butterfly. In fact, Nesty’s win set off a wave of emotion when it was announced on nationwide television in Paramaribo, the nation’s first major international win since 1987.
In spite of his historic achievement in the Seoul Olympics, he wasn’t elected as Latin America’s Best Athlete in 1988 (perhaps because Suriname was little known in the Spanish-speaking world). In that year, he finished as one of the top five athletes. However, he earned a scholarship from the University of Florida.
At the turn of the 1980s, he claimed gold in the Pan Pacific Tournament in Japan. Thereupon, he was unbeaten in the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle (America), defeating again once Matt Biondi in the finals.
At the FINA Perth World Championship
1991 was a golden year for Nesty. Why? Suriname caught the attention of the swimming world by earning a global title at the FINA World Cup with Nesty. In the international meet in Perth (Western Australia), this hardworking Surinamese had won the men’s 100m butterfly with a time of 53.59 seconds. In doing so, he also became the first and so far only black to win a gold in the FINA World Championship. Only Seven months later, Nesty was equally successful at the XI Pan American Sports Games on Cuba’s capital, Havana, when he won two medals, gold and silver, for the Surinamese Olympic squad.
His dream was to become an Olympic champ for the second consecutive time on Spaniard soil. In fact, he was Suriname’s best hope for the Barcelonese Games, but he could not defend his Olympian title after finishing third and winning the bronze. Standing on the winners’ platform, Suriname’s national idol Nesty cried when he received the bronze medal. He could not endure the pain of losing his Olympian title. He was a strong contender to finish among the two top here.
By 1994, he swam in the finals of the 100-meter butterfly at the FINA World Championships in the Italian capital of Rome. Nonetheless, he placed 7th overall with a time of 54.26 seconds. That same year, he retired from swimming.
In his homeland of Suriname, his status is that of a hero. In recognition of the honor he had brought to Suriname, special silver coins were also issued by the Surinamese administration. On the other hand, Paramaribo’s Olympic Stadium, was renamed in his honor.
On the 20th anniversary of Nesty’s triumph, he was named by Suriname’s sports officials as the flag bearer of the Surinamese Olympic team at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in the People’s Republic of China.