HAVANA -- Anthony Nesty's picture is on a postage stamp and his profile is on a coin, and if they ever get around to building a new airport in Surinam, they'll probably place his name on the main terminal, too.
Nesty is a national hero in a country with 400,000 people and one 50-meter swimming pool. He is the world's best 100-meter butterfly swimmer, the defending Olympic champion who brings spotlight on a tiny dot of a place on the northern tip of South
"I really don't know why I get so much attention," Nesty said. "I try not to think about it."
The attention comes to Nesty because of his special performances. Last night at the Pan American Games he added a dash of world-class speed to a meet that could be described as second-rate. Swimming aggressively from start to finish, he won the men's 100 butterfly in 53.45 seconds, an impressive time considering the level of competition and the still unfolding conditions at the new swim center.
But terrific races are nothing new to Nesty, a 23-year-old senior at the University of Florida.
Nesty became a star of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Racing against heavily favored Matt Biondi, he won the 100-meter butterfly by timing his finish perfectly. He touched first, a hundredth of a second before Biondi.
After the race, Biondi graciously accepted defeat, yet wondered aloud about how he could have mis-timed the finish. Nesty calmly analyzed the finish and shrugged off the historical footnote of being the first black Olympic swimming champion.
When he returned to Surinam, he was greeted by 60,000 people and received by the country's president. He couldn't even take walks alone near his home in the capital, Paramarido.
"Anthony is shy," said Surinam coach Kenneth MacDonald. "He takes everything in stride. When he was younger, he was a nasty kid. He'd do dirty tricks, like push people in the pool or grab their legs during races. I'd have to throw him out of practice a couple of times a week."
The nasty kid was also a swimming prodigy, who needed better training and competition. Six years ago, he came to the United States and attended Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles High School.
"My dad wanted me to swim," he said. "He wanted me to do something different than a team sport."
Nesty is a swimmer who craves ferocious training sessions, piling up practice meters and winning sprint races.
"He is gifted by God," MacDonald said. "He has the talent, and he has the body."
Unlike most swimmers, Nesty does not have a tapered, lean physique. He is 5 feet 11 and 175 pounds, and barrels through the water.
"Anthony is just a great athlete," said Mike Merrell, an 18-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., who finished second in 54.60 seconds. "He has a tremendous work ethic. He trains real hard. He can hang on and he doesn't die at the end of the race."
Worn down by a stomach bug, and tired after only six hours of sleep the night before, Nesty managed to recover in time to race. He walked on to the pool deck in a green and white warm-up, and received a loud ovation. On the starting block, he adjusted his goggles, loosened up his arms with a windmill motion and prepared to win. After one false start was triggered, Nesty went through his routine of preparation again and was first off the blocks. He then overwhelmed his competition, winning by a full body length.
"It is difficult to beat him," said third-place finisher Eduardo Piccinini of Brazil. "He is the best swimmer in the world. One day, who knows, he can lose. But it won't be easy to beat him."
Nesty takes little for granted. He prepared hard for last year's eagerly awaited rematch with Biondi at the Goodwill Games, and won going away. Now he looks forward to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
"That's the next big race," Nesty said. ""I'm still swimming and I'm still winning."