At the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics on August 8, a member of the Chinese team took an oath on behalf of 12,000 assembled athletes to abide by the rules of the games, “in the true spirit of sportsmanship”. Sadly, a few competitors at past games have ignored these principles with win-at-any-cost tactics, outright cheating or drug use. “There are a few bad apples who spoil the entire spectacle,” says Olympic historian John Lucas. “It’s easy to forget that there are far more patriotic and high-minded athletes than robber barons and drug cheats.” Since the modern games began in 1896, there have many outstanding acts of sportsmanship that embody the Olympic ideal. Here are ten of the very best.
A second chance
One of the first great Australian Olympic swimmers, Cecil Healy, found himself a virtual shoo-in to win the 100m freestyle race when the powerful team from the United States showed up late for a semifinal heat. The Americans, saying there had been a misunderstanding, pleaded for another chance to race. The matter was referred to a special jury.
Healy asked his team’s representative on the jury to insist that the Americans be given another chance. It was duly decided that the Americans could race in a special semifinal event. Duke Kahanamoku, the great Hawaiian swimmer, won a place in the finals and went on to beat Healy by two metres for the gold medal. At the end of the race, the crowd gave Healy a thundering ovation.
Healy’s career as a competitive swimmer was cut short by the onset of World War I. He enlisted and was killed in battle in 1918.
A helping hand
Paavo Nurmi, the legendary Finnish long-distance runner, carried a stopwatch while racing to pace himself. During a qualifying race in the 3000m steeplechase, Nurmi fell at a water jump and dropped his watch.
Lucien Duquesne of France stopped, lifted his rival to his feet and helped him retrieve his watch from the water. Rather than forge ahead, Nurmi ran the rest of the race alongside Duquesne and at the finish line offered the Frenchman first place. Duquesne declined.
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