KIBUYE, Rwanda -- If there's such a thing as a textbook swimmer, Rwanda's Jackson Niyomugabo -- not Michael Phelps -- may be it.
That's because he learned how to swim from one.
Niyomugabo, who is competing at the London Olympics in the 50-meter freestyle, used a French book called "The Secrets of Swimming Development" to perfect his stroke.
"My main coach all my life has been this book," the 24-year-old Niyomugabo, a two-time Olympian, said in an interview back home recently, referring to his precious swimming guide.
Niyomugabo had another valuable source of information to help him on his journey from an undeveloped lakeside town in east Africa to the Olympics: TV. He would watch top swimmers compete and compare what he saw with the illustrations in his book -- because he also can't read French.
He'd glance back and forth from television to book, making mental notes and planning to put what he'd seen into action when he trained later alongside fishing canoes on the shimmering lake that separates Rwanda from Congo to the east.
"It was an extremely difficult way to learn," the 50-meter freestyler said. "I would sit for hours in the hotel lobby staring at the TV. And when I swam I didn't even have someone to hold a stopwatch to tell me if I was improving."
Coming from Kibuye on the shores of Lake Kivu, Niyomugabo swam beginning at a young age. But to develop the right technique and speed, he needed the textbook a high school teacher gave him.
Niyomugabo was discovered seven years ago when he won a local race by some distance, but his only coaches have been temporary and with him for just a month around major competitions.
"He is very gifted, a self-made man," said Richard Ramira-Lema, Niyomugabo's coach at the Beijing Olympics. "Without a regular trainer or an organized club he has made a leap."
His story is reminiscent of Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, the Equatorial Guinea swimmer who made a splash at the Sydney Olympics for being -- well -- really bad. Moussambani practiced in hotel pools and in a river and won over the crowds in Sydney with his determination to finish his heat despite struggling badly.
Niyomugabo learned enough from his book to go to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when he failed to get past the preliminaries. He's back four years later and is hoping for a better performance in London.
"I want to win a medal this time," he said, wearing a four-year-old blue and yellow Rwanda team uniform from Beijing and lying on a sandy beach outside the hotel where he offers swimming lessons. "And why not? After all the things that have happened to me anything is possible."
It is an outrageously unrealistic goal with world record holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil, Australia's James Magnussen and American pair Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin -- to name just a few -- way ahead of the Rwandan. Niyomugabo's qualifying time was around six seconds slower than the leading contenders in the sport's quickest Olympic race.
He competes in London on Thursday in the 50-meter freestyle heats against swimmers from Sudan, American Samoa and Djibouti, and will have to improve drastically on his times to progress to the semifinals.
But, a swimmer from Rwanda at his second Olympics is progress considering the scarce facilities and resources available there. A female Rwandan swimmer, 16-year-old Alphonsine Agahozo, is also set to compete in the women's 50-meter freestyle.
Without a permanent coach, Niyomugabo has relied more on natural ability than any finely tuned technique, he said.
"If I had more support I am sure I could swim faster, but this is reality," he said. "In Beijing I was very young. This time I am training harder, and I hope I will see the results."