Competitors Show Kindness at Unusual Olympics

    02 August 2021

    As the world watched the Tokyo Olympics, we saw a surfer helping to translate for the surfer who had just won, high-jumping friends agreeing to share a gold medal and two runners falling, then helping each other to the finish line.

    In an unusual Olympic Games where competitors spoke openly of their mental health, acts of kindness are everywhere. In news photos, the world's most competitive athletes appear, showing gentleness and warmth to one another. They are celebrating, giving encouragement and comforting when another faces setbacks.

    Kanoa Igarashi is a Japanese-American surfer competing for Japan. He was sad when he came in second place to Brazilian Italo Ferreira in their sport's first-ever Olympic event.

    Igarishi had lost the fight for a gold medal on the beach he grew up surfing. The Japanese-American surfer could have suffered in silence, but he instead used his knowledge of Portuguese. He helped to translate a press conference question for Ferreira.

    The crowd laughed hearing the translation from a fellow competitor and an official thanked the silver medalist for the help.

    "Yes, thank you, Kanoa," said a beaming Ferreira, who is learning English. Igarishi's friend, Portuguese surfer Teresa Bonvalot, is also competing in the Olympics.

    Brazil's Italo Ferreira, center, gold medal, Japan's Kanoa Igarashi, right, silver medal, and Australia's Owen Wright, bronze medal, pose for photographers in the men's surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021
    Brazil's Italo Ferreira, center, gold medal, Japan's Kanoa Igarashi, right, silver medal, and Australia's Owen Wright, bronze medal, pose for photographers in the men's surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021

    Sharing a score - and the gold

    Days later, at the Olympic Stadium, Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar got into in a situation they had talked about but never experienced — they had the same number of points.

    Both high jumpers were perfect until the bar was set to the Olympic-record height of 2.39 meters. Each missed three times.

    They could have continued to another jump, but instead decided to share the gold.

    "I know for a fact that for the performance I did, I deserve that gold. He did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold," Barshim said. "This is beyond sport. This is the message we deliver to the young generation."

    After they decided, Tamberi slapped Barshim's hand and jumped into his arms.

    "Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful," Tamberi said. "It was just magical."

    Earlier, on the same path, runners Isaiah Jewett of the U.S. and Nijel Amos of Botswana fell together during the 800-meter semifinals. Rather than get angry, they helped each other to their feet, put their arms around each other and finished together.

    Many top athletes come to know each other personally from their time at competitions around the world. At earlier events, they have watched each other through the best and worst times.

    Those feelings have often grown at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games. There is desire for normalcy, and there is enjoyment at once again seeing familiar faces.

    Like a family

    For American Carissa Moore, the pandemic and its restrictions brought her closer with the other surfers.

    The current world champion said she usually travels to surfing competitions with her husband and father. But all guests were banned from the Olympics this year. Moore said she struggled being at the Games without her family.

    Moore lived in a home with the other surfers, including teammate Caroline Marks, Moore's strongest rival. Moore said she didn't know Marks well before the Tokyo Games. But on the night Moore became the winner and Marks came in fourth, her rival was the first to greet her.

    "Having the USA Surf team with me, it's been such a beautiful experience," Moore said. She added that they had become as close as a family.

    Norwegian Lotte Miller placed 24th in the difficult women's triathlon last week. She took a moment to encourage Belgium's Claire Michel, who had done so poorly that she sat on the ground, crying.

    Michel had come in last, 15 minutes behind winner Flora Duffy of Bermuda. But she did finish. Fifty-four athletes started the race, but only 34 finished it.

    Miller told Michel she is a fighter. "This is Olympic spirit, and you've got it 100 percent."

    I'm Jill Robbins.

    Sally Ho wrote this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    athlete - n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength

    encouragement -n. something that makes someone more likely to do something

    comfortv. to cause (someone) to feel less worried, upset, frightened

    deservev. used to say that someone or something should have or be given something

    slapv. to hit (someone or something) with the front or back of your open hand

    magicaladj. very pleasant or exciting

    rivaln. a person or thing that tries to defeat or be more successful than another

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