Great moments in Olympic sportsmanship

The Olympic and Paralympic Games have certainly produced some amazing performances over the years, but here at Play by the Rules we’re more interested in those moments of great sportsmanship that typify what the games are all about . . . the triumph of the human spirit.

With a long, rich history to choose from following are a few notable examples. Can you think of others?

Lutz Long, German long jumper

At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Lutz Long set an Olympic record during the heats to qualify for the finals. American Jesse Owens fouled on his first and second jumps and faced disqualification if he fouled a third time. Long, a German, advised Owens to adjust his take-off point to several inches behind the foul line to ensure that he would advance to the next round. Owens took Long’s advice, qualified for the finals, set a new world record and won the gold medal. Long came second. “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,” Owens later said.

Shawn Crawford, American sprinter

American sprinter Shawn Crawford won the gold medal in the 200m at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Racing four years later in Beijing, he finished in fourth place but was awarded the silver medal when the athletes in second and third place were disqualified. The original second-placed runner, Churandy Martina from Netherlands Antilles, received a package eight days later containing Crawford’s silver medal. “He told me he didn’t feel good that it was his medal,” said Martina. “He said he doesn’t deserve it.”

John Landy, Australian distance runner

Yes, we know. This is not strictly an Olympic story but it was so gracious and amazing that it deserves to be included. Plus, it was the Australian National Championships ahead of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games so . . . close enough!

Australian distance runner John Landy, the second man to run a mile in under four minutes, was chasing the world 1500m record in 1956 at the Australian National Championships. Another Australian legend, Ron Clarke, was in the lead when he stumbled and fell. As the other runners passed Clarke, Landy jogged back to help him to his feet and abandoned all hope of breaking the world record. However, Landy’s race wasn’t over. Coming from well behind, he displayed amazing speed and endurance over the last two laps to win the race only six seconds outside the world mark.

Kurt Fearnley, Australian wheelchair racer

At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the UK’s David Weir won the gold medal in the men’s 800m T54 race ahead of Kurt Fearnley from Australia. Following the race, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) ordered a re-run after discovering a lane violation. Fearnley and the Australian authorities wrote to the IPC asking that, in the spirit of sportsmanship, the re-run be cancelled and the medals re-instated. "I just thought that at the end of the day a race was run, it may not have been the race that was supposed to happen but it happened and the best man won," said Fearnley. Fearnley and Weir will again race in London.

Lawrence Lemieux, Canadian sailor

Racing alone near the halfway point in his Finn class race at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, Lemieux was in second place in a seven-race event when he spotted two Singapore sailors in the water. Both injured, they were unable to right their boat. Lemieux broke away and sailed to rescue them, waited for an official patrol boat and then transferred the two sailors. He continued his race and finished in 22nd place. After the race the International Yacht Racing Union jury awarded him second place, his position when he went to the aid of the capsized crew.

Judy Guinness, British fencer

At the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Britain’s Judy Guinness was on her way to a gold medal when she informed officials that her opponent, Austria’s Ellen Preis, had touched her twice. The hits would have gone undetected and Guinness would have won. Instead she relinquished the win and took the silver medal.

Katrin Green, German long jumper

We’ve included this one because it happened just recently at a Paralympic World Cup event.

With a medal in the bag, Katrin Green watched as her Chinese opponent, Juan Wang, leaped for gold. Not content with just being a spectator, Green whipped up the crowd and helped them cheer Wang on to a winning jump of 4.78m. Green settled for bronze.

We can’t always control the outcome of a game or a race, but we can control how we each behave while competing. Good sportsmanship is the mark of a great athlete and it’s moments like those listed above that will be remembered long after the medals have been presented.

Good sportsmanship should be actively encouraged at all levels of sport. Your club should have a Code of Behaviour that clearly explains what is expected of each member on and off the field and outlines the principles of good sportsmanship and fair play. Go to the Play by the Rules Club Toolkit for a Code of Behaviour template. Simply add your club’s logo or use it as the starting point to develop your own policy.