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Every gentleman wants to win. But if he doesn’t win fair, everybody loses. No occasion better embodies that belief than the Olympics: a spirited meeting of sporting ideals that traces its lineage back to the values of Ancient Greece. With Rio 2016 just days away, we present to you our rundown of the greatest moments of Olympic sportsmanship. Play fair, gentlemen.
Canadian Sailor Lawrence Lemieux made the grandest sacrifice imaginable when he forwent his a near-guaranteed Olympic medal to save the lives of two of his competitors. Lemieux was sitting pretty in second place in one of the final races of the Seoul olympics when he spotted the Singaporean team of Joseph Chan and Shaw Her Siew clinging desperately to their upturned 470. Wheeling away from the chasing pack, Lemieux battled downwind towards the crew – who were being swept steadily out into the riptide – and helped them aboard his own boat. His actions meant he placed 11th overall, but the sailor was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal by IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who told him: ‘By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal.’
Under the brilliant captaincy of Alexander Tikhonov, the Soviet Union’s biathlon ski-team were assured favourites to take home the gold. But during the final leg of the competition, Tikhonov stumbled bafly and and snapped his ski clean in too. Desperate to reclaim in the gold medal he’d earned four years earlier, Tikhonov battled on on a single ski. All hope looked lost, until Dieter Speer of the rival East German team stepped onto the piste to give Tikhonov one of his reserve skis. Tikhonov worked his way back into the pack, and the Soviet team earned the gold. Speer and his East German Compatriots took home the bronze.
After crashing out of the sailing competition at an early stage, Pavle Kostov and Petar Cupac were watching the final race of the competition with their coach, Ivan Bulaja, in the Olympic Village. Suddenly, they saw that disaster had struck the table-topping danish team: with just 15 minutes to go before the starting pistol, their mast had snapped in half. Rushing to the marina, the Croatian team prepared their own boat for the race and offered to lend it to the Danish team, who readily accepted. Starting four minutes after the rest of the pack (and 20 seconds before they were disqualified) Jonas Warrer and Martin Kirketerp finished in a gallant seventh place: enough to secure them their gold medal place.
The fiercest rivals in Beijing’s 50m freestyle event were Dara Torres, a 41 year old American chasing her first Olympic Gold, and Therese Alshammar, a young Swedish prodigy. But as the competitors took to the starting blocks, Alshammar’s suit ripped. Torres rushed over to help her fix it, but it soon became apparent that she’d need to change into a new one. The officials were preparing to start the race without the Swede, until Torres insisted that she would boycott the event if Alshammar wasn’t permitted to swim. The officials agreed to let her change her costume, and Torres won the semi final, going on to claim the silver. She missed out on the gold medal by just one-hundredth of a second, but was widely lauded for her sportsmanship.
During the now-infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics, German long jumper Lutz Long cruised into the finals with a series of record breaking jumps. A young American by the name of Jesse Owens, however, wasn’t having such a good day. Owens had fouled on his first two attempts and was staring down the barrel of disqualification should he foul again. But before the American made his final attempt, Long took him to one side and advised him to adjust his take-off point to an inch or two before the foul line. Owens took the veteran German’s advice and qualified for the finals. Here, his adjusted technique saw him set a new world record and take home the gold. Long took the silver. “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,” Owens would later say “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship that I felt for Lutz Long at that moment.” Long died fighting in World War II.