The summer Olympics that concluded Aug. 8 included so many images of sportsmanship that USA Today did a section on it. Several other media outlets followed suit.
The images included bronze medalist Ashley Moloney of Australia hugging gold medalist Damian Warner of Canada at the end of the men’s decathlon; Team Japan midfielder Ritsu Doan and Team Mexico midfielder Luis Romo shaking hands after the men’s soccer bronze medal match; Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen exchanging his shirt with China’s Chen Long as a sign of respect after winning the men’s singles gold medal match in badminton; and Isaiah Jewett of the United States and Nijel Amos of Botswana helping each other the remainder of the race after both fell in the men’s 800-meter semifinal.
There were many more images.
But my favorite was Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, who tied after multiple rounds in the men’s high jump. An official said they would go into a “jump off” to see who would persevere. Instead, Barshim, the reigning world champion in the event, asked if they could both take gold which the official said was possible. Tamberi agreed, and they shared the gold medal.
In swimming, Tatjana Schoenmaker was shocked after learning she had won the gold and set a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke. As the South African grew emotional, Team USA’s Annie Lazor in the next lane came over to embrace her excitedly. Another American swimmer, Lilly King, and Schoenmaker’s teammate, Kaylene Corbett, joined the two of them in a group hug.
One of my favorite Olympians, U.S. swimmer Katy Ledecky, also made news for reaching out to a competitor. When Ariarne Titmus of Australia won a close race in the 400-meter freestyle final, just ahead of her American rival, the two elite swimmers embraced, then later laughed and put their arms around each other on the pool deck.
Ledecky won two gold and two silver medals, and her teammate Phoebe Bacon had a strong fifth-place finish in the 200-meter backstroke. Both Olympic athletes attended Little Flower School in Bethesda, in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and are alumnae of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, also in Bethesda. Stone Ridge hosted a July 19 pep rally for Ledecky, class of 2015, and Bacon, class of 2020, that drew hundreds of enthusiastic supporters.
In earlier interviews with the Catholic Standard, Ledecky spoke of her deep Catholic faith and how the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters who taught her at Little Flower School are her role models in the faith.
The Associated Press reported that acts of kindness were everywhere at the Olympics, with the world’s most competitive athletes captured showing gentleness and warmth to one another — celebrating, pep-talking, wiping away one another’s tears of disappointment. NBC Sports stated that sportsmanship and love were on display — fierce competitors displaying their Olympic spirit and showing us how to come together with empathy and love.
The National Sportsmanship Foundation, a program of the St. Louis Sports Commission, is a national movement aiming to change the way society views and values sportsmanship. (See stlsports.org/stl-sportsmanship.) Our own Catholic Youth Apostolate CYC Sports program also works tirelessly to promote sportsmanship.
Yes, it’s often hard to see sportsmanship in the heat of day-to-day sports events, especially on the pro level. But the Olympics remind us that sportsmanship is alive and well worth striving for — a source of inspiration for us all.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.