The Olympics are often seen as a cut-throat competition where only winning the gold matters. The countless cases of doping, cheating and protests attest to this fact.
Contrastingly, the following examples show the highest tradition of sportsmanship followed by athletes, in accordance with the motto “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
Jesse Owens and Luz Long
At the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin at the height of the Nazi rule, a famous friendship developed between African-American Jesse Owens and the German Luz Long.
In the preliminary round of the long jump event, Long set an Olympic record to qualify for the finals while Owens stared at disqualification after fouling in his first two attempts. Before his third attempt, Long advised him to adjust his take off point to behind the foul line. Owens heeded the German’s suggestions and the rest is history. He not only made it to the finals but won gold with a new world record. Long had to settle for silver.
Long was killed in World War 2. After the war Owens travelled to Germany to meet Long’s son Kai and later served as best man during Kai’s wedding.
Shawn Crawford’s medal giveaway
American Shawn Crawford initially finished fourth in the Men’s 200m sprint at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However the second and third place runners were later disqualified for lane infringement and Crawford was upgraded to silver.
A few days later Crawford gave away his silver medal to the original second placed runner Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles. Crawford said that he felt undeserving of the medal and it should rightfully belong to Martina.
Although the official results still show Crawford as the silver medallist, his gesture of sportsmanship received universal praise.
Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth helps Russian skier
Cross-country skier and local favourite Anton Gafarov was in a miserable position in the semi final of the Men’s Free-Style Sprint at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Russian had broken his ski after crashing not once but three times and was struggling to finish the race.
Canadian cross-country coach Justin Wadsworth then rushed to Gafarov’s rescue. Wadsworth fixed a new ski to the Russian’s ski boot replacing the broken ski and ensuring that Gafarov would at least finish the race in front of his home crowd.
Although he finished last, Gafarov was cheered by the crowd as he finished. Wadsworth’s act of sportsmanship became viral on social media and beyond.
Croatian sailors help Danish team win gold
Croatian sailors Pavle Kostov and Petar Cupac were out of medal contention of the 49er competition at the 2008 Olympics. Upon receiving news that the Danish team of Jonas Warrer and Martin Kirketerp Ibsen had broken their mast before the start of their race, the Croatians readily agreed to lend their boat to the Danes.
The Danish duo were not only able to compete but finished seventh in the 49er medal race, which ensured that they would win the gold medal.
Kostov, Cupac and their coach Ivan Bulaja were later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship by the IOC.
Medallists cheering on for India’s JJ Shobha
At Athens 2004, India’s JJ Shobha had to be carried out on a stretcher after getting injured in the javelin throw event of the Women’s heptathlon. In a show of grit and determination, she nonetheless came back to compete in the 800m sprint, the final event of the heptathlon. She not only finished the race but came third in it, finishing a creditable 11th overall.
Shobha again had to be carried out on a stretcher after the race but not before winning hearts of the crowd and her fellow competitors. Gold medallist Carolina Kluft of Sweden and Lithuanian Austra Skujyte who won silver were the first to congratulate Shobha. The Athens crowd also rose to their feet to cheer for her.
She was later honoured with the Arjuna Award for her efforts.
Also Read: India at the Olympics: Sydney 2000