High jumpers Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar have shared a long friendship. They have shared physical pain and mental anguish. They have seen each other fall – and rise again. They have shared the sacrifice it takes to become the best in their sport. To separate them into first and second at the pinnacle moment of their careers just didn’t fit.
So, why not share gold? Given the chance at the Tokyo Games to duel, the duo instead rose together to show the world the unselfish spirit of competition.
The pair has enjoyed a decade-long friendship, first meeting at the 2010 junior world championships. Mutaz took gold. Gianmarco failed to qualify for the final. But they took an instant liking to each other, hanging out on and off the track at meets ever since.
Their bond grew tighter through career-threatening injuries. Gianmarco suffered a broken ankle just before the 2016 Olympics, a trauma so profound that he brought his cast with him to the track in Tokyo. Mutaz won the silver in 2016, missed much of 2018 with an ankle injury, but recovered to earn gold at the 2019 world championships.
“The injury was so bad that we couldn’t actually imagine coming back to jump,” Mutaz told Yahoo. “Mentally, physically, what we’ve been through − he knows, I know. It takes so much.”
Healed and inspired in Tokyo, their parallel courses seemed destined to intersect, if not collide. The pair outdistanced the field, neither missing a jump through 2.37 meters (7 feet, 9¼ inches). Then, each missed all three attempts at 2.39. A jump-off was in order to determine gold and silver.
But, as the meet official approached the pair to explain the rules, Mutaz asked, “Can we have two golds?”
Interesting question. IAAF rule (181.8.d) reads, “If no jump-off is carried out, including where the relevant athletes at any stage decide not to jump further, the tie for first place shall remain.”
The official got as far as, “It’s possible…” when the jumpers looked at each other. No words were exchanged − just a nod. A handshake grew into an embrace and ended with a scream from Gianmarco as he leaped into Mutaz’s arms.
“I know what he did to get back,” Gianmarco said. “He knows what I did to get back. You can’t leave (behind) the dream of a gold medal to someone who sacrificed his entire life for this. It was amazing. Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful.”
Their shared gold was just the fourth in Olympic track and field history − the first since 1912. “This is a dream come true,” Mutaz said. “It is the true spirit, the sportsmen’s spirit.”
In the immediate aftermath, Gianmarco’s exuberance spread to fellow countryman Marcell Jacobs, who surprised the world by winning the 100 meters and found himself in Gianmarco’s embrace at the finish. Marcell admitted, “Seeing Gimbo win the high jump gold fired me up a lot.”
Later that evening, Gianmarco and Mutaz remained on a high, couldn’t sleep and took a walk together through the Olympic village. “We (were) stopped by literally every single person we passed,” Mutaz said. “The reaction was insane. People crying. I appreciate the support. I love that we did something that touched everybody’s heart.”
Gianmarco closed the season with a victory − all by himself – in the Diamond League final, then joined Mutaz on an international goodwill tour. Following the Olympics, Mutaz said he received congratulations “from places I’ve never heard about before. … This is beyond sport. This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”