Sochi 2014: Friendship first

SOME of the most indelible Olympic memories have nothing to do with medals and medal counts, podiums or world records. One of those moments happened Tuesday when Russian competitor Anton Gafarov took a spill during a tricky turn in his cross-country sprint semifinal. What followed is a defeat for the self-serving “winning is everything, the only thing” spirit proclaimed by the rich countries at the Games, which have become an unscrupulous commercialized bazaar, where everything is promoted, bought and sold. It gives hope that humanity will someday remedy the disappearance of the amateur spirit and the highest sporting ideals in world sport. Here’s how it went down.

Anton Gafarov crashed hard halfway through the race:

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.51.47 PM

His left ski was badly damaged:

gafarov crash 2

After laying on the snow for a few seconds, Gafarov picked himself back up and continued the race with a badly-damaged ski. Though he was two minutes behind in a race that takes four minutes to complete, he was set on finishing. The ski didn’t cooperate.

He couldn’t take his weight off his broken ski, so he tried to finish the race using only his poles:

anton gafarov skiing

A few seconds later, he tumbled again:

gafarov fall

This time his ski snapped in half:

anton garafov busted ski

This time it looked like he really would have to quit the race:

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.52.29 PM

It looked like he’d be unable to finish the race until a man came bounding down the side of the hill holding onto a single ski.

Canadian coach runs onto the course with a replacement ski:

gafarov given ski

Without saying a word, the man bent down, took off Gafarov’s busted ski and replaced it with the one he’d brought down the hill.

Coach puts it on for him:

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.52.57 PM

Gafarov finished the race and was met with a rousing ovation from the crowd.

Later, the good skiing Samaritan was revealed to be Canadian cross-country coach Justin Wadsworth. He was standing with a group of coaches when he saw Gafarov’s spill and decided to help him out with a reserve ski he had been holding for his own racer.

As the Toronto Star described, Gafarov nodded at Wadsworth after he fitted the ski and then continued on his way. He was greeted by a thunderous cheer that made it seem like he’d won the race rather than finishing more than two minutes behind. And, in a way, he was. Thanks to Wadsworth’s good deed, a racer who officially finished 12th will be the only thing many people remember about cross country skiing at the 2014 Olympics.

Gafarov made it to the stretch run, and applauded the crowd:

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.53.13 PM

Wadsworth himself didn’t think much of it. Cathal Kelly of The Toronto Star asked the coach about his gesture after the race. She said Wadsworth was “surprised anyone would care …  … I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.”

Crowd gives Gafarov standing ovation:

gafarov finishes race

Later a TV commentator cynically said that sportsmanship is for losers, that Gafarov was way out of the competition in any regard, and after all it was the semi-finals, not the finals.

And before the Canadian sports media gets more chauvinistic, it is worth pointing out that the Canadian coach, Justin Wadsworth, is actually an American, a former outstanding skier in his own right, and married to former cross-country skier Beckie Scott and former member of the Canadian team that included Sara Renner.

At the 2006 Winter Olympics, Norwegian coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen gave Ms Renner a ski pole after hers was broken when a competitor stepped on it during the cross-country team sprint. Renner (and team) won the silver and the Norwegians finished fourth. Renner would have undoubtedly lost time or might not have been able to continue with only one pole, so there is the possibility this act of sportsmanship cost the Norwegians a Bronze medal.

Most of Russian press wrote about this story. And there are similar cases: a Canadian biathlonist also broke a ski which was replaced by an opposing coach; Canadians and some other teams proposed to give blades to Jamaican bobsled team whose equipment was lost on their way to make them able to train before the luggage was finally delivered; and a machine of the German biathlon team that prepares skies was broken, and the Russian team gave theirs to them.

(Thanks to USA Today and Business Insider for sharing this story and its readers for some of the examples.) Photos Getty Images, NBCOlympics

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