By Sonny Turner
Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi being allowed to share the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics men’s high jump has rendered the competition pointless. To all the high jump athletes who competed in qualifiers, and trained for years for a chance to compete in the latest instalment of The Olympic Games, I’m sorry, your time was wasted. Without a winner, the competition to find the best high jumper in the world has failed.
The very reason to compete against others is to try to win. The qualities of a competitor, such as the three core Olympic values, excellence, friendship, and respect, can only be demonstrated with any value if there is something at stake. To be the best. There is no point in competition that doesn’t result in a winner. By the very nature of a competition to find the best high jumper on the planet, in a sport where a jump off is possible, there can’t be two winners. The competition isn’t over.
Questions which have also arisen from the medal share… How many people can share a medal? Where does it end? If all the 100m finalists stand at the start line and decide they’re too afraid of losing to try and win, can they all agree to share the gold? Can the two finalists of the World Cup decide they’d rather not lose than win, and share the trophy? No, that would be ridiculous. The greatest moments in sport are crafted when everything’s on the line, years of hard work and practice come down to single moments, and to forgo the final and most important stanza of any sporting event is to rob us of the very essence of sport… the pursuit of excellence.
If all the competitors had cleared the last height in the high jump could they all share the medal? How far back can you go to share a medal? You could not hold the men’s high jump competition in France 2024, and just give every man on the planet a gold medal. None of us has won the Olympic high jump, but neither have Barshim or Tamberi.
As mentioned, the pursuit of excellence, a core Olympic value, has also been betrayed in the process of this medal share. To pursue excellence would have meant the proposed jump off, which both athletes refused, with Barshim instead asking, “Can we have two golds?”. Offered the chance to compete to be the best in the world, both men settled for a draw. That is not pursuing excellence. If a game of football goes to a penalty shoot-out, and one team refuses to take part, they would forfeit the game. The same rules should apply to Barshim and Tamberi. Both men should have been disqualified for refusing to compete.
The pair were happy to keep jumping when the competition pool was wider, and the jumps lower, because they backed themselves to win. However, when they were not certain they could outjump their fellow competitor, with success and failure each so much closer now with only two remaining, they decided to quit, rather than risk losing in pursuit of the ultimate prize. That is not the mentality of an Olympian. And it’s not the message the Olympic Games should be endorsing.
To the people who will say it was a great moment of sportsmanship, an uplifting example of friendship, I would ask you to look deeper at the motivation behind Barshim’s question. Don’t get it twisted, this was fear of failure. This was failure avoidance prioritised over will to win. And they didn’t just give each other a gold medal which wasn’t earned, they took away each other’s chance to earn the gold medal; a silver medal obtained through the pursuit of a gold is a far better display of sportsmanship, than a gold shared in an effort to avoid losing.
Not only has the medal share made competition pointless, the Olympics has also now set a dangerous precedent for future events. Making it clear that not only is medal sharing allowed, but celebrated, leaves the door wide open for future Olympians to follow suit. Who knows, maybe the 2024 games will be just one day of all the athletes who have qualified turning up and collecting a gold medal, having all decided to share them.