The Guyana Chronicle carried a story which educated us that Shawn Crawford handed over his Olympic 200-metre silver medal to the sprinter, Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles, because he felt the latter, who had come in second but was later disqualified, had earned the medal.
I hope that many sports enthusiasts were as elated as I was. Long after we would have forgotten the Beijing Olympics, the annals of fair play would remind the world that Shawn Crawford kept the torch of true Olympism burning bright.
Martina had come in second behind Usain Bolt, but was disqualified for touching the line on the curve of the 200 meters track. Crawford’s explanation for his handing over the silver medal was so simple, yet it pierced the armour of arguments coming from those who wanted the USA and Crawford to retain the medal. Mr Crawford, the 2004 200-metres Olympic Champion, said that Martina was so far ahead of him that he (Crawford) would have been beaten anyway. Martina gained, according to Crawford, no unfair advantage by touching the line.
Crawford’s sense of morality is enhanced when he is compared with the likes of gymnast Paul Hamm and the US Olympic chiefs who refused to hand back the gold medal (to South Korea’s Yang Tae-Young) which Hamm had inadvertently received because of a judging error. Similarly, during the 1996 Olympics, Italian officials shamelessly claimed that their boxer should retain a medal even though he was completely outclassed by his Algerian opponent on the judges’ scorecards, and only an unfortunate computer snafu allowed the Italian boxer the medal.
The calibre and decency of Crawford was further emphasized when he explained that all athletes train so hard for the Olympics, it is neither right nor fair to negate, because of a trivial issue, an athlete’s superlative performance on that day.
Olympic history is replete with examples of athletic decorum, of the adherence to the philosophy of Olympics, and of the genuine spirit of sportsmanship:
In 1936, at the Olympic Games in Hiltler’s Berlin, in the broad jump competition, the American Jesse Owens and the German Luz Long were tied at 7.87 metres after four jumps. Luz Long gave Jesse Owens some advice about his approach run. Jesse Owens won the competition with his final jump of 8.06 metres, and immediately thanked Luz Long for the tip. The two athletes walked together around the infield to thunderous applause from 80,000 spectators. They remained friends until World War II came between them. It did not break their friendship.
In 1956, Christopher Brasher crossed the line first in the 3000 metres steeplechase but was immediately disqualified because, it was said, he had impeded another competitor, Larsen, at the water jump. Rozsnoi (Hungary), Larsen (Norway) and Laufer (Germany) were placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Brasher appealed and his appeal was supported by the very three athletes who were downgraded when the appeal was upheld.
In 1964, at the Winter Games, the British team at the start of the bobsleigh race found that a vital part of their sleigh was broken. The Italian pair, who at that stage had the fastest time, offered their own part to the British pair, who then won the gold medal.
There are so many similar examples of human virtue in sports competition. Ian McDonald, in a recent letter to me, terms competitive tenacity coupled with fairness the “abiding glory of sport.”
One should not be puzzled by sport’s relation to morality. Crawford has shown us that in competition one puts not only one’s athletic ability to the test. One is testing one’s personal excellence. Winning a medal is certainly a measure of athletic brilliance, but sportsmanship and sporting ethic reflect personal virtue.
Dr Steve Surujbally