Breathtaking sporting moments in 2021: high jumpers share Olympic gold | sport
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TIt was a moment, two and a half hours after the start of the biggest men’s high jump competition in Olympic history, when no one had a clue what was going on. A second earlier, the Italian Gianmarco Tamberi and the Qatari Mutaz Barshim had chatted calmly with an official. Now they were arguing, hugging each other and pounding in pure delirium.
Tamberi then collapsed and started rolling down the track with his hands on his face as if he had been possessed, or shot, or maybe both – while Barshim used his trainer’s shoulder to absorb his tears. It turned out that the happiest and most exhilarating moment of the sporting year was unfolding before our eyes. And soon it wasn’t just Tamberi and Barshim overwhelmed by emotion; the rest of us also found ourselves wiping something off our cheeks.
Until Tokyo, there had been no shared Olympic gold in track and field since 1912. Yet towards the end of an extraordinary high jump final, in which six men still jumped at 2.39m , Tamberi and Barshim were still unable to separate. When the judge started talking to the two men about a roadblock, an idea sprouted in Barshim’s head. “Can we have two gold medals? The Qatari asked, pondering aloud whether he could be allowed to share the triumph with his great friend. “If you want, you can,” replied the manager. There were no more words. Just a look, a smile, then a powerful helping hand. It wasn’t just an act of sportsmanship. But, in these uncertain times, massage balm for the soul.
However, it was so unexpected that even Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, didn’t know what was going on. “It was a great competition, everyone was focused on it,” said Coe, who was sitting with IOC Vice President John Coates and the heads of cycling, rowing and gymnastics. “But when suddenly Barshim and Tamberi kissed, everyone started looking at me.” They wanted an explanation of what had just happened. But Coe didn’t. “I was like, ‘Guys, what’s going on here? Oh my God, they’re going to share the medal, ”Coe told The Guardian. “And then John said to me, ‘So what’s going on? “
“Well, obviously they’ve come to an arrangement,” Coe replied. Coates’ gaze said it all. “Did you let the athletes decide that?” “
Eventually, Abby Hoffman, a member of the board of directors of World Athletics, discovered that a rule allowing the sharing of medals had been adopted at the 2011 convention in Daegu. “I didn’t remember it at all,” Coe admits. “And I suddenly thought, ‘I bet this got passed by a series of amendments just 15 minutes before lunch.’
After watching Tamberi and Barshim celebrate, Coe went to bed not knowing what the fallout would be. “I thought I would wake up in the morning with all kinds of negative headlines,” he admits. “But as I was trying to sleep I was listening to Radio 4 and they kept saying it was the most uplifting story of the Games and surely deserved the Fair Play award. At the end of the show, Barshim and Tamberi were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. “
Some would say that Olympic competition should be about winning and nothing else. But the world of elite sport, which is generally so binary, it was a delightfully non-binary act. And the fact that the two also shared the pain – and rebirth – together only resonated more deeply.
Tamberi had been one of the favorites for the 2016 Olympics only to rupture his left ankle ligaments 20 days before Rio as he attempted a personal best 2.41m in Monaco. It was so bad that he had to be carried on a stretcher. Many times he feared he would never be so good again. Barshim always reassured him that he would. “I didn’t want him to be in a silver medal position,” the Qatari explained afterwards. “Because I knew what he had been going through physically and mentally.”
The injury left such a mark that Tamberi even brought the cast he wore after his 2016 ligament surgery with him to the 2020 Games. In it he wrote: “My road to Tokyo”.
Incredibly, in 2018, when Barshim suffered the exact same injury while attempting to break the 2.46m world record and was out for a year, Tamberi repaid the favor with keeping morale high. “I was at his wedding,” explained the Italian. “It’s not just two adversaries. They are two friends who can share the best time of their lives together and I think it’s magical that we did. We were good friends before the Olympics. But now it’s like we’re blood brothers.
“I will never regret this choice,” he added. “This year, they changed the Olympic motto, higher, faster, stronger, together. They added this new word, Together, after so many years. We just followed the motto.
Barshim agrees. He remembers when he got back to the Olympic Village he couldn’t sleep so he went for a walk. “We were literally stopped by every person we passed,” he says. “The reaction was crazy. I love that we did something that touched everyone’s hearts.
This is something that Coe, a ruthless competitor in his day, also recognizes now. “Sometimes those of us in sports are too close, while the outside world has a different perspective,” he says. “And they just thought it was a great piece of humanity. Two athletes from very different backgrounds and very different continents, hugging each other, smiling, and sharing this wonderful moment.
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