There are those who are champions on courses of competition. Then there are those who are victors in their caliber of character, too. In our often wayward world, the latter ought to be given not just a gold medal but a golden crown.
Being dead last is never fun. I would imagine that it is particularly painful if you’ve trained like a world champion, traveled halfway around the world and are competing at the Winter Olympics.
Roberto Carcelen of Peru was racing in a 15-kilometer cross-country skiing event. One unique hurdle he had, however, was that he was competing with a fractured rib. He had suffered the broken bone days before the Sochi, Russia, games in a training crash. And he ignored the doctor’s advice not to compete. Carcelen hadn’t come that far to stop at the starting gate.
Thrusting his arms back and forth to plant his ski poles in the snow as he competed in the cross-country men’s classic must have been like boxing with a broken rib. I can’t imagine the pain he must have endured.
Carcelen later confirmed: “It was a very difficult race for me. … I was in a lot of pain in my right ribs.”
Carcelen already had made history at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, when he became Peru’s first Olympic athlete. Now he was determined to double down the Peruvian pride and simultaneously win the hearts of people all around the world.
For Carcelen, racing with his broken rib, finishing was winning. And that’s exactly what he was determined to do as he approached the finish line in last place, waving Peru’s flag as he did.
Dario Cologna of Switzerland had finished in first and won the gold (his third) with a time of 38 minutes, 29 seconds. Carcelen crossed the finished line at one hour, six minutes, 28 seconds.
The crowd cheered as Carcelen crossed the finished line. But the Olympic goose-bumps moment came when waiting to greet and embrace him at the finish line was none other than Cologna. Dachhiri Sherpa of Nepal, who finished second-to-last, also was waiting.
Now there’s some genuine class. They are true Olympic champions. And Olympic-sized kudos in particular go out to Cologna for sticking around and showing gentleman’s gold by commending his fellow and rival Olympians.
As Jay Busbee at Yahoo Sports exclaimed, “what a great Olympic moment.”
Rachel Chase of Peru this Week reported: “For footage of Carcelen’s finish, click here. But be warned, it may cause your heart to grow three sizes and/or restore your faith in humanity.”
Of course, some might say, it’s one thing to show true sportsmanship when one wins but quite another when one loses — which leads me to this story with a gold medal attitude.
Justin Wadsworth, Canadian cross-country skiing coach and three-time Olympic champion himself, was dejected and disheartened after all his athletes were defeated early in Olympic competition. But he still mustered up enough gumption to mosey over to the finish line and watch the end of the men’s sprint free semifinals, according to the Toronto Star.
He noticed Russian skier Anton Gafarov stumbling over the slope on the horizon. He had crashed — twice — broken a ski and struggled along with a strip of the material P-Tex, taken from the bottom of his ski, wrapped around his foot like barbed wire bound around a caught horse’s hoof.
He was already three minutes behind the leaders. He merely was dragging himself through the last couple of hundred meters of the 1.7-kilometer race to the finish line.
Wadsworth looked around the crowd, and everyone was just staring at the once favored Russian skier gimping down a hill he once glided down. Even his own Russian coaches gazed at him like deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.
According to the Star, Wadsworth later explained: “It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap. You can’t just sit there and do nothing about it.”
So he ran onto the course with a spare ski he had carried over for Canadian racer Alex Harvey. Gafarov knew someone was rushing him a replacement ski, but he didn’t recognize the face. As Wadsworth knelt to help him, no words were exchanged, for neither man knew the other’s language, but the random act of kindness said everything. After a nod of thanks, Gafarov fled off to finish his race.
And Wadsworth’s only commentary about the entire incident and why he had helped a rival competitor was this: “I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.”
The video of Wadsworth jumping to help Gafarov is on YouTube, titled “Sochi 2014: Anton Gafarov and Justin Wadsworth.”
When a champion waits to congratulate a last-place wounded competitor, it shows Olympic sportsmanship. But when a champion bends down on his knees to pick up and serve one who is his rival, it demonstrates Olympic gold.
As inspiring as these Olympic stories are, however, they shouldn’t come as a shock. But the fact is, in a world where integrity and servanthood take second place to image and superiority, tales of decency stand out like the Olympic torch in the night sky. And they also remind us of a timeless truth: We all need to have victorious values. Morals before medals, others before ourselves. Our character should be solid gold, not merely gold-plated. The golden rule should be our gold standard. And sportsmanship and kindness should always trump winning or seeing our photo on a box of Wheaties.