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 half-way around the globe, and are competing at the Winter Olympics.
Roberto Carcelen of Peru was racing in the men’s 15K classic cross-country event. One unique and personal hurdle he had, however, was that he was competing with a fractured rib. He had suffered the broken bone days before the Sochi Games in a training crash. And he ignored the doctor’s advice not to compete. Roberto 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 men’s 15 kilometer cross-country race must have been like boxing with broken rib. I can’t imagine the pain he must have endured.
Roberto later confirmed, “It was a very difficult race for me. … I was in a lot of pain in my right ribs.”
Roberto already made history in 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics, when he became Peru’s first-ever Olympic athlete. Now he was determined to double-down the Peruvian pride and simultaneously win the hearts of people all around the world.
For Roberto, racing with his broken rib, finishing was winning. And that’s exactly what he was determined to do as he completed the race in dead 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. Roberto crossed the finished line a half-hour behind at one hour, six minutes, 28 seconds.
The crowd cheered as Roberto crossed the finished line. But the Olympic goose-bumps moment came when waiting to greet and embrace him at the finished line was none other than Dachhiri Sherpa of Nepal, who finished second-to-last, and Dario Cologna of Switzerland, who finished first 30 minutes earlier.
Now there’s some genuine class and character – true Olympic champions in every sense!
As Jay Busbee at Yahoo Sports exclaimed, “What a great Olympic moment.”
Or as Rachel Chase at Peru’s International 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.”
And Olympic-sized kudos in particular go out to Dario Cologna for sticking around and showing gentlemen’s gold by commending his fellow and rival Olympians.
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 my last gold-medal attitude story.
Canadian cross-country ski coach and three-time Olympic champion himself Justin Wadsworth 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 free sprint semifinals, according to the Toronto Star.
He suddenly noticed Russian skier Anton Gafarov stumbling over the slope in the horizon. He had crashed – twice, broke a ski and struggled along with a strip of the material (P-Tex) off 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 was merely dragging himself through the last couple hundred meters of the 1.7 km race to the finished line.
Canadian coach 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 as 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 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 men knew each other’s language, but the random acts 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 helped a rival competitor was this: “I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.”
Here is the video of coach Wadsworth jumping to help the Russian skier.
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 a 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.