World

Rio Olympics athletes and body-shaming

Composite image of Alexa Moreno and Robel Kiros Habte competing at the Olympics in Rio Image copyright Getty Images/ Reuters
Image caption Competitors Alexa Moreno and Robel Kiros Habte have prompted widespread debate on social media

Standing by the pool, he pulled his cap over the sides of his goggle straps, took his place, and waited for the signal.

At stake was a place in the men's 100m freestyle at Rio 2016. But all attention was on Robel Kiros Habte, the Ethiopian swimmer who came last.

He was cheered in the pool but Robel Kiros Habte has since been dubbed "Robel the Whale" - shamed for the shape of his body.

Meanwhile, over in the gymnastics arena, Alexa Moreno of Mexico tumbled and flipped, and soared over the uneven bars - only to suffer abuse for her size on social media.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ethiopia's Robel Kiros Habt finished half a lap behind his closest rival

'Who's the flabby?'

Press coverage of Robel Kiros Habte was brutal when he came 59th out of 59 in the men's freestyle heats.

He had an "unathletic paunch," said one newspaper. "He was really tum-ting", "who's the flabby?" and "generously rounded" were other choice phrases.

At home in Ethiopia, reaction was also less than flattering, as his father ranks high up in the national swimming federation and there have been cries of nepotism.

But just as the crowd in the swimming pool cheered him on as he fell farther and farther behind, the twitterati stuck by him too, seeing him as an inspirational figure.

Image copyright @FOpesha
Image copyright @HNDWRITTENRAUHL
Image copyright @edwardkuruvilla

"I wanted to do something different for my country, that's why I chose swimming," Robel told Reuters news agency.

"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. It didn't matter where I finished."

The swimmer admitted finding the unflattering language upsetting.

"They have used dirty language against me and called me fat and a big man and a whale. I would not say these things about others," he told the Daily Mail.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Alexa Moreno from Mexico prompted an unflattering response for her performance

'Damn fat disgusting girl'

Mexico's only gymnast missed out on qualifying in her disciplines but came 31st out of 59 in the women's individual all-round.

Unlike Robel, the fat-shaming she got came mainly from Twitter users, not news sources. And comments directed at her focused on her looks rather than her ability.

Image copyright @ElPrincipeDice
Image caption One Twitter user called her a "damn fat disgusting girl"
Image copyright @Sandra90_G3
Image caption Another told her to lose weight

But soon, people started to tweet messages of support.

Image copyright @DaniSolanaceae
Image caption She is 1.47m (4ft11) tall and weighs 45kg (7.8 stone), this person says, amazed Alexa is being called fat
Image copyright @amyharvard_