After Qatar’s Mutaz-Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi failed to clear the last height in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics men’s high jump final, they were left with a seemingly difficult decision: a jump-off for one gold or sharing the title of Olympic champion. The jumpers chose the latter, and their longtime friendship explains why.
Their friendship arose during the 2010 world junior championships in New Brunswick — an event Barshim won — but grew even deeper in 2018 after a shared struggle. In 2018 Barshim suffered a severe left ankle injury, one Tamberi dealt with himself right before the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Tamberi, who returned to competition after doctor’s questioned his ability to do so immediately after the injury, helped Barshim bounce back as strong as he did.
“The injury was so bad that we couldn’t actually imagine coming back to jump,” Barshim said, via Yahoo. “… Mentally, physically, what we’ve been through — he knows, I know, it takes so much.”
As if the return-to-injury storyline wasn’t inspirational enough, the pair also said they decided to share gold medals to prove winning shouldn’t always mean mentally breaking down the competition. Tamberi admitted, though, it helped that Barshim was the one opposite him in this situation.
“Not because I don’t respect the others,” Tamberi said, via Yahoo. “I respect all the high jumpers that were there,” he said. “But Mutaz passed through the same problem as me, and I know what it means to come back from that injury. I know how frustrating it is.”
Belarus’ Maksim Nedasekau, who finished third, didn’t benefit from Barshim and Tamberi’s sportsmanship. He took home bronze even though no silver medal was awarded.