Can’t we have Two Golds? Barshim and Tamberi epitome Olympic spirit in a heartwarming finale at high jump | Sunday Observer

Can’t we have Two Golds? Barshim and Tamberi epitome Olympic spirit in a heartwarming finale at high jump

29 August, 2021
The Spirit of Friendship, Solidarity and Fair Play at the Moment of Glory.
The Spirit of Friendship, Solidarity and Fair Play at the Moment of Glory.

The first Olympic Gold shared in 100 years in athletics! Two incredible athletes! The greatest Olympic final of a field event! I watched it all with tears of joy. Honestly, I can’t remember seeing anything better during my life span.

The athletics at Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games was officially declared the highest quality elite competition in history. From heart-breaking mid-competition fist-bumps to post-competition interviews, the program of ten days was one long emotional rollercoaster.

Sharing a victory is a powerful instinct among competitors at certain heightened moments, as such it represents a profound shift of values as the standard self-centeredness of elite sport, necessary for performance, gives way to something more generous, more important.

The Olympians, Mutaz Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy are now eternally linked to the Olympic history as a result of their act of sportsmanship and mutual respect. They were bound by appreciation of each other’s talent and sympathy for each other’s vicissitudes.

They voluntarily shared the Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medal in high jump, aptly displaying the Olympic spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. Indeed, they have made lasting contributions to the legacy of the Olympic Games.

Can’t we have Two Golds?

In a pulsating day at the Olympic Stadium, Sunday, August 1, 2021, the heartwarming Olympic finale in high jump truly brought tears to the netizens across the world when Barshim and Tamberi shared the Olympic gold medal.

Anyone who has followed the high jump in recent years would have been aware of what Barshim and Tamberi have been through in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games. Both rehabbed their way back to competitive form in recent years and headed to Tokyo in pursuit of their maiden Olympic gold.

Both the athletes had soared above the rest of the field, posting perfect marks through their first jumps. For Tamberi, the end of that road began at 2.19m and for Barshim at 2.24m and both sailed over 2.37m gloriously on their first try.

The clearance of 2.37m was an historic first; never had two jumpers topped that height at an Olympic Games. But when the bar was raised to 2.39m - the Olympic record, both failed on all three attempts. For his final attempt, Tamberi even used his old plaster cast as a marker for his run-up, a reminder of all he’d been through to get to that point.

In a huddle with track officials, the athletes were given the option to settle the tie with a jump-off. As the official started to explain, Barshim asked his impish question from under the brim of one of his biggest, reddest hats: “Can’t we have two golds?” and got the response “It’s possible,” after a brief pause.

“It depends if you…” the official continued trying to explain the full scenario, but by that point, Barshim and Tamberi had suddenly opened up a magical doorway through which both men, gladly, trod.

“I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it. We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done. There is no need,” Barshim later said. “He is one of my best friends, not only on the track, but outside the track. We work together. This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”

Barshim, and Tamberi, slapped hands and hugged, celebrating an unimaginable dual finish atop the podium. Even before conferring with the official, the pair had been in a tight hug, congratulating each other on bringing out their best at the Tokyo Olympics.

When Tamberi was asked if he was good with that, the Italian let loose with a primal scream and passionately embraced his rival of just a few seconds earlier. Barshim was grinning, nodding, inviting corroboration with an outstretched hand.

Tamberi then belly-flopped onto the hard track, rolled around a few times and screamed. It’s not every day you tie your good friend for an Olympic gold medal. He then ran around the stadium, at one point picking up the shell of his old cast inscribed “Road to Tokyo 2020 2021.”

Barshim slowly walked toward his team members and broke down in tears himself. It was the first Olympic gold medal for Qatar.

Pathway to Tokyo 2020 Gold

Part of the resonance of sharing the gold stems from the history of recent injuries with which both athletes have had to contend. Barshim, after winning a bronze at London 2012 Olympics at 2.29m, a silver at Rio 2016 Olympics with 2.36m and the world title in 2017 with 2. 35m, had big problems with a back injury that turned out to be a stress fracture.

In 2018, Barshim tore ankle ligaments while attempting to break the world record with a leap at 2.46m in Hungary. He didn’t jump for the next 11 months but worked his way back into contention to successfully defend his world title in 2019 with a world leading of 2.37m in Doha.

Tamberi, finished 21st in London 2012 with 2.21m. Then, wrecked his ankle just three weeks before the Rio 2016 making an attempt at 2.41m in the Monaco Diamond League, having raised his Italian record to 2.39m. Doggedly, he attended Rio Olympics with his leg encased in plaster.

Tamberi was also sidelined from competition for 11 months, but with a more gradual return to the event’s upper echelon and both men’s stories felt so deserving of gold.

“After my injuries I just wanted to come back, but now I have this gold, it’s incredible. I dreamed of this so many times,” said Tamberi. “I was told in 2016 just before Rio there was a risk I wouldn’t be able to compete any more. It’s been a long journey.”

“It is amazing, this is a dream I don’t want to wake up from,” said Barshim, who competed just four times this season with just a modest 2.30 to his credit. “I have been through a lot. It’s been five years that I have been waiting, with injuries and a lot of setbacks. But we are here today sharing this moment and all the sacrifices. It’s really worth it now in this moment.”

The two elite athletes enjoyed a gentle stroll together through the ‘Olympic Village’ in the wake of their historic interaction aptly displaying the Olympic values of Friendship, Excellence and Respect.

Mutaz Barshim of Qatar

Mutaz Barshim, born June 24, 1991 is an outstanding Qatari athlete who is 189 cm in height and 65 kgs in weight. He is the current World Champion and second-best jumper of all-time with an outdoor personal best (PB) of 2.43 and an indoor PB of 2.41. He holds the Asian record.

Barshim was born in Doha into a family of five boys and one girl. His father was also an athlete. He said in an IAAF interview, “I grew up, nothing special, like any kid in Qatar. I joined a club because my father was going to the club training so sometimes he used to take me there with him. I knew athletics because of my father.”

At 15, he embraced high jump as it looked more fun and began training at the Aspire Academy. In 2009, he met his current coach Stanisław Szczyrba who started to train him in Doha. Barshim said, “He is more than a coach, we are like father and son.” During the summer in Europe, they spent time at Szczyrba’s home in Poland, and also trained in Sweden.

Barshim enjoyed his first international successes in 2010. In 2011, he won the Asian Championships at 2.35, with a new national record (NR). He won the Military World Games with a 2.28 and made his debut on the global senior stage at the World Championships. In 2012, he established a new PB and NR of 2.37 at the Indoor Asian Championships.

At the London 2012 Olympics, Barshim won a bronze, finishing in a 3-way tie. In 2013, he entered six competitions in Europe, cleared 2.30 or higher and won five competitions, before his back injury forced an early end. In 2013, at Prefontaine Classic Diamond League Meet, Barshim won with 2.36, a new meet record. After everyone missed their attempts at 2.39, Barshim, jumping last, saved his final (third) attempt to achieve a new PB of 2.40. His best in 2013 was a silver at World Championships.

Barshim jumped sparingly during 2014 because of chronic back pain. He won 2014 World Indoor with a new Asian record of 2.38m. At Adidas Grand Prix, clearing 2.42m, he improved his PB and his Asian record. He won the competition with a PB of 2.43 giving him the status of being the second highest jumper of all time. In 2014, he won both Asian Indoor and Asian Games.

In 2015, Barshim won the IAAF Diamond League. In 2016, he earned a silver at Rio Olympics and won the Diamond League stops in Lausanne, Switzerland and Birmingham. In 2017, he won the World Championships and the Diamond League stops in Zurich, Birmingham, Paris and Shanghai.

In 2018, he won Diamond League stops in Oslo and Eugene and Asian Indoor. In 2019, Barshim became the first man to defend the world title with a world leading jump of 2.37.

Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy

Gianmarco Tamberi, born in Italy on June 1, 1992, is 191 cm in height and 76 kgs in weight. He is the World indoor champion of 2016. He is coached by his father, Marco Tamberi, who held the Indoor Italian high jump record in 1983.

In 2015, Tamberi broke the Italian record twice - first with a leap of 2.34 in Cologne, and second a 2.37 in Eberstadt. During winter 2016, Tamberi won every contest he participated and in Banska Bystrica established a new Italian indoor record with 2.35.

At 2016 High Jump Moravia Tour, he recorded a jump of 2.38m, and same gave him the Italian indoor record. He won a gold at the World Indoor in 2016 with 2.36m.

Tamberi was unable to compete at the 2016 Olympics due to an injury. At major competitions, he is known for sporting a full beard during qualification and shaving half of it for the final. He is the current holder of both NRs - indoor, 2.38, established at Hustopece on February 13, 2016 and outdoor, 2.39, established at Monaco on July 15, 2016.

The best outdoor World ranking of Tamberi was 2nd in 2016, but he was indoor world leader in 2016 and 2021. Tamberi won the National Championships eight times, Italian Championships five times and Italian Indoor Championships thrice.

Co-Olympic Champions

At the Stockholm 1912 Olympics, James Thorpe had won two golds in pentathlon and decathlon. In 1913, he was stripped of his both titles when it was found that he had been paid for playing baseball, thus violating the contemporary amateurism rules.

Ferdinand Bie of Norway who won the silver in pentathlon and Hugo Wieslander of Sweden who finished second in decathlon at Stockholm 1912 were declared Olympic champions, but both refused to accept the gold medals. In fact, Hugo Wieslander was contemplating to return the gold medal to Thorpe.

In 1982, after 30 years of Thorpe’s death, the IOC restored his both Olympic medals with replicas, ruling that the decision to strip fell outside of the required 30 days. Since then, the names of James Thorpe and actual winners of silver medals, Bie and Wieslander, appear as joint winners of the pentathlon and decathlon.

At the London 1908 Olympics, the men’s pole vault was shared by Alfred Gilbert and Edward Cook of the United States, who both achieved 3.71m. The historical marathon had a direct effect on the event and considering the time factor, the officials decided against holding jump-offs for first and third places in the pole vault. Then, in an unusual decision awarded two gold and three bronze medals. Thus, 1908 and 1912, are clearly triggered by the exigencies of time or circumstances.

Thus, the courageous and spirited act by Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi at Tokyo 2020 is unique and undoubtedly the best display of true sportsmanship in athletics at the Olympic Games.

(The author is the winner of Presidential Awards for Sports and recipient of multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. He can be reached at [email protected])